Hello, all! It’s been a good week all around and the icing on the cake is that I got to watch Sicario, a movie I’ve been looking forward to viewing since its release in October. This movie did not disappoint. I was expecting gritty, bleak, and violent, and I got gritty, bleak, and violent, with a layer of beastly cello music to further darken the atmosphere. After Enemy and Prisoners, I get the feeling that Denis Villeneuve isn’t trying to make a happy movie.
Synopsis: Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), leader of a SWAT team in Arizona, is invited to join an elite task force led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) as they hunt for Manuel Diaz, an important figure in an infamous Mexican drug cartel. Kate meets Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), a lawyer with a mysterious connection to the cartel. Though Kate thinks that they are investigating the cartel in Texas, the team ends up in Juarez, where Kate witnesses a violent showdown between her team and the Mexican drug cartel.
After this altercation, Kate’s partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) urges her to leave the task force, but she refuses. Together, they struggle to overcome the forces of a corrupt task force, cartel hitman, and a world with a greater evil than they ever imagined.
I love, love, love films with unclear moral compasses! They make me feel so uncertain! Sicario is a film without a clear protagonist or a clear sense of right and wrong. Denis Villeneuve provides both sides of the conflict, from Kate’s orthodox moral code on the side of the traditionally “good” Americans, to that of a corrupt Mexican cop who works with the drug cartels to support his family. Villeneuve doesn’t direct us towards how we should be feeling, but he forces us to re-examine what we’ve been taught about the war against drugs. It’s not so black and white.
Sicario waits only a few minutes before delivering on its violent mandate. The first scene involves the discovery of a house built on bodies, literally, hidden inside the wall.And the movie doesn’t ease up from there. There’s death in every corner in Sicario, and not always from expected places. Kate is beaten, bruised, strangled, and shot, but the real attack is on her soul. It’s brutal to watch Kate’s morality be tested again and again, floundering against an evil that she can’t fight and can barely understand.
There was buzz around Sicario when it was released over the fact that it was an “action movie” with a female lead. I wouldn’t call it an action movie because action movies are fluffy, and this was devoid of all human happiness. It was a mix between a drama and a thriller, with bits of action thrown in to spice things up. But anyways, this film does a great job of not shouting “HEY WE HAVE A WOMAN LOOK WE ARE SO PROGRESSIVE!” at the audience. Kate is neither disparaged nor glorified for her gender. She’s treated like trash, but like sexless trash, and it’s important to note that her male partner Reggie is treated with equal condescension.
But Sicario is not a feminist movie at all, nor should it be. It’s a movie that has a female lead in a traditionally male job, but that’s only the set-up. The conflict is not whether Kate, a woman, can defeat the evil men. It’s about whether Kate, a human, can survive in a world of other, morally complex humans. These other, morally complex humans, are fantastic because they’re so real. Brolin’s character is a born-and-raised American cowboy who exemplifies the spirit of nonchalant, “deserved,” violence. His casual chat with a man he is in the midst of torturing shows how dangerous it is to judge a book by his cover, or Josh Brolin by his Crocs.
Equally ambiguous is del Toro’s Alejandro. I won’t spoil his background, but he’s definitely not just a lawyer. He’s the only character besides Reggie who is kind to Kate, while at the same time treating her with utmost cruelty. One scene in particular is devastating, but necessary to watch, as it shows how intensely one’s humanity can be broken. And if that’s not a glowing endorsement for a movie, I don’t know what is!
There’s a lot of violence in this movie. Oodles and oodles of violence. And not pulpy violence like Tarantino. Real, ohmygodisthatguyokay violence. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly if you’re offended by it), a lot of the violence is done to Kate. Like I said earlier, she gets physically and mentally destroyed. Do I think, as the foot-in-mouth Anita Sarkeesian does, that the movie “takes what would have been a great emotionally complex female protagonist and undermines her via repeated victimization and abuse?” No, I don’t. According to Villeneuve, some producers of Sicario originally wanted Kate to be rewritten as a male character. I doubt that the plot would’ve changed significantly; the only real scene I could see changing would be one between The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal and Emily Blunt, because unless the male Kate Macer was gay, the two characters wouldn’t meet in the same way.
But Kate is not beaten up because she’s a woman. It’s perhaps easier for the men to beat her up because she’s a woman, but that’s not the reason they beat her up. They hurt her because she’s getting in their way, she’s asking questions, and she’s trying to do the right thing. They’re not trying to do the right thing, and they’re all very violent. I think that a male Kate would’ve been equally abused, and maybe even more, since he was a man and society would deem it more “acceptable” for Josh Brolin to manhandle a man than a woman.
What Sarkeesian, and others, seem to miss is that Kate is not a victim. She’s beaten and humiliated, but she gets back up again. She’s a true soldier. And though the film doesn’t leave us with a feeling that any of its characters will come out of this ordeal with their sanity intact, you know that Kate will survive. That’s what she does. And that’s why Kate is perhaps the most badass character, male or female, of 2015.
There is some beauty in Villeneuve’s film, probably to keep it from withering under all the sadness. The arid desert is gorgeously exhibited, especially the nightscape. During one intense sequence, the movie is in night-vision, which is something I’ve never seen before. It was very cool and very disorienting; it shows that Villneuve is a risk-taker as well as a man of aesthetics.
Final Consensus: Sicario is an engaging. complex thriller that leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Villeneuve’s solemn direction, along with stellar performances by the entire cast, makes it one of the best films of the year. Rating: 10/10 Evil Crocs
The movie’s Oscar nominated sountrack
Who is the better del Toro? I love Guillermo, but damn Benicio is doing some fine work lately. And all you Crimson Peak haters get outta here! I know they’re not related, but two del Toros in Hollywood? Is it a common name?
…but really guys, The Strain is fucking awful.