Sicario

SICARIO. Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin. Directed by Dennis Villeneuve. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong themes and violence). 121 min.

This American action drama tells the story of a woman FBI agent, wanting to do the right thing, being caught up in the cross-border drug traffic between the USA and Mexico. It competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. In the midst of drug-cartel adventuring, the film focuses on what happens to the woman after she is enlisted to help in the war on drugs.

The agent in question, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), finds herself in the middle of a drug cartel in Mexico, trying to track down an anonymous drug lord. She is part of an elite task force, and there are corruption and violence everywhere she turns.

The word "Sicario" in the film's title is Spanish for a hired assassin or hitman. Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), is the hitman of the film's title, and in this movie he is likely to turn up anywhere, fighting for or against any side, saying "I go where I'm sent...in the end you will understand". Alejandro leads the task force, with the help of a Government official, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) - and both Del Toro and Brolin play shady characters.

The film is not for the squeamish. It is heavily action-oriented, and the aggression it shows is brutal and vivid. The Director of the film, Dennis Villeneuve, pulls every stop out he can to show drug violence at its grimmest, and he succeeds.

The plot of the film is complex, and there are many twists, turns and surprises. Throughout, unexpected events create a level of escalating tension that grabs the viewer and stays in place, never letting go. Emily Blunt, as Kate Macer, tries to cope with the violence that surrounds her, and is told that she is supposed to learn from male superiors, who are intent on keeping her ignorant. Shared trust is not at all an emotion that basically characterises any of the people in this movie.

An uplifting moral purpose is hard to detect in this movie, except that the message is clear that the taking of drugs, and the trading in them, are not activities to be either encouraged or recommended. The film's action scenarios constantly reinforce how entrenched the drug trade actually is, and the level of aggression that the film displays clouds any positive messages that might be apparent in the film in other ways.

The opening scene exposes the viewer to human corpses rotting behind a wall in a suburban Arizona home that belongs to a powerful Mexican drug cartel, and the violence and corruption evident throughout the film just keep coming. The film, from its opening scene onwards, has nothing positive to say about the value of human life, and people in the movie are negatively driven by personal motives, such as revenge and manipulation.

The role model that Blunt projects is an especially interesting one. Apart from occasional glimpses of the wife of a corrupt policeman, Blunt is the only woman who is featured in the movie. She is a female agent caught and compromised in a man's world, and she conveys her conflicts and moral doubts very well. Kate Macer wants to behave ethically, finds it difficult to do so, and she uses what resources she can to cope with a world that is totally masculine and controlling.

Despite the lack of an obvious morally uplifting theme, this is a well-crafted and well-directed film. It is a gripping drug thriller that combines action and suspense dramatically, and its scenes are staged very well to convey solid tension. Good wide-lens camera work - both on the ground and above it (with some amazing arial photography of convoys snaking through the streets of Mexican towns) - captures the action, and the photography shows excellent thermal image camera-work. Del Toro and Blunt excel in their acting, and there is an ominous musical score that is just right.

With the drug trade so rampant in the world today, this quality movie creates its atmosphere forcefully, effectively, and scarily.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Lionsgate Films

Released September 17, 2015


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