Sicario was advertised as a realistic thriller depicting the harsh realities of the fight against the Mexican cartel. While for the majority of the movie Sicario is exactly that, things deteriorate towards the end.
Be aware there are major spoiler ahead.
Although Sicario has been out for quite some time, I’m ashamed to say that I only recently got around to watching it. This film, starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benecio del Toro, follows idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Blunt) as she is recruited into a government task force mandated to destabilize the Mexican cartel. They planned to do this by bringing down several key players in the drug trade. Blunt’s character quickly learns that the operations of this task force are often less than legal and struggles to balance her morals with her commitment to the task force and their mission. While the first two acts of this film are exceptional and unrelentingly tense, the third act of Sicario sees a loss of realism and a slight change in direction.
Throughout the film Macer is discovering that in order to combat the Mexican cartel, one must be willing to get down and dirty and utilize some unorthodox and often illegal tactics. Macer struggles with this as the story unfolds and we see her wrestling with exactly how far she is willing to go in order to accomplish her mission. After a very tense and nerve-wracking first two acts, Sicario builds to a climax with the exceptionally shot night vision/ thermal vision tunnel raid. This is where things start go astray. While the cinematography is excellent (as with the rest of the film), Sicario changes direction.
Benecio del Toro’s character, Alejandro, who throughout the film is a mysterious and quiet man, proving himself willing to do almost anything to accomplish the mission at hand, becomes the focus. Alejandro single-handedly infiltrates a well-guarded villa belonging to a cartel boss and kills nearly everyone. It is revealed that this cartel boss had a hand in the murder of Alejandro’s entire family. A movie seemingly about the mission of Macer and the task force became a movie about Alejandro’s revenge and turns the man into a lethal killing machine. While this would likely make a great action movie, Sicario felt, at least for the first two acts, to be a step above this. Acting as an interesting commentary on the state of affairs between the U.S. and Mexico and the violence taking place in the border regions between the two nations, Sicario turns on its head and disassembles the interesting critique it had been building upon in its first two thirds.
Kate Macer loses her position as the focus of the story and is relegated to the background. Her journey as she wrestles with her moral compass and comes to understand her place in the task force and her reason for being recruited are left unattended in favour of a more Hollywood-style ending. Macer’s story is unsatisfactorily revisited after the villa shootout with Alejandro threatening to kill her if she blows the whistle on the illegal operations of the task force. While this ending makes sense in as much as it shows that Macer doesn’t belong in the “land of wolves,” as Alejandro calls it, it still leaves something to be desired. It doesn’t feel as if the movie concluded on the same note that it began on. This, in addition to the fact that Kate, a strong female lead played excellently by Emily Blunt, doesn’t actually accomplish anything in her journey throughout the movie and ends up no closer to her goal than when she began.
This criticism doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch this movie though. While it could have been improved in several areas it still excels as a gripping piece of film. The cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall) is superb, the Mexican landscape and city of Juarez truly coming to life on the screen. The musical score as well is fantastic, pushing every tense moment up several notches and pulling the viewer into the scene. The action sequences are expertly crafted and feel very realistic. The border crossing scene in particular is an incredibly shot and executed sequence, building in suspense and intensity in its coming moments as the large convoy drives through the violent city of Juarez. Emily Blunt, as well, proves herself more than capable once again of playing any role that is thrown at her, providing a fantastic performance of a conflicted FBI agent.
Sicario, then, is a good movie. The serious tone and subject matter that it set for itself invited critics to nitpick every detail, but if you watch without over-analyzing, you will be sure to enjoy it.