SICARIO — CANNES 2015
A disappointment from start to finish, Denis Villeneuve’s attempting-to-be-edifying international drug thriller fails miserably by the social realist parameters it portends to fulfill with macho quasi-military bombast and blood-splattered spectacle. That most of the violence occurs in and around the notoriously deadly drug cartel-run city of Juarez, Mexico, serves as a surprisingly dull Third World window dressing.
The action picture, written by first-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, works better if you go into it looking for plenty of exploitation with your political propaganda du jour. The inherent racism comes gratis.
This is not Casta-Gavras’s 1969 leftist agitprop masterpiece “Z.” Nor is it Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers.” “Sicario” comes nowhere near the shrewd directness of those political thriller milestones.
Villeneuve has spoken on how “America believes it can solve problems outside of its borders with violence.” It’s a valid point, but Villeneuve celebrates the violence he abhors during explosive scenes of mass murder that arrive with a stupid post-9/11 message of “Don’t Fuck With Us” that echoes around the movie. That life is cheap to both sides of the drug wars is clear. What isn’t is why we should care. Our collective subconscious understands that every “War” the US Government wages against anything it can get its bloody hands on is merely a money grab for the contractors who get the jobs and an ego boost for military officers out for promotions and who believe they are untouchable. America’s War on Drugs operates as a wholesale black market on an epic scale. Killing is written into the budget.
Considering that America is currently suffering more than one mass murder every single day of the year, I question what effect a film like “Sicario” will have on an American society that already fetishizes violence and guns on an obsessive level. Do we need more movies where an audience is made to watch dozens of human beings brutally shot or bombed to death for money or just a love of killing? Not so much.
Although handsomely filmed by renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, “Sicario” is too thematically ambiguous for its own good or to be taken seriously as a meaningful piece of editorial commentary on America’s 40-plus-year corporate-branded War on Drugs. The film is content to posit that everyone on both sides of the American/Mexican Drug War is corrupt, save for one innocent but sturdy woman of ethics whose values change over the course of the story.
The movie tilts a sloppy glimpse of the rampant venality that permeates elite (FBI) anti-drug squads, like the one overseen by Defense Department contractor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a dirty autonomous agent with a mean streak on a hair trigger.
Graver’s partner-in-crime is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the hitman (sicario) of the film’s title. Greed and revenge are the factors driving these cartoon creations of testosterone-and-steroid-laden characters.
Regardless of which government office is writing checks to these mercenaries, they act as free agents looking to line their pockets and kill men they stupidly believe are worse than they are. You have two well-armed gangs, but one is just a pinch more ferocious than the other. You can guess which side gets that honor.
The super-action dream team adopts newbie agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), although it’s never clear why such a group would recruit a new member in such a trial-by-fire fashion. Kate gets a crash course in the FBI’s secret methods of continuing their endless battle against Mexico’s brutal drug cartels. Nerve-wracking missions back and forth between Texas and Juarez allow for bullet-riddled scenes of ultra-violence and emotional and ethical crises for Kate.
When Kate asks Matt about their objective, he responds, “to dramatically overreact.” The line serves as an explicit theme line for the movie. Which doesn’t leave much room for a meaningful story.
Rated R. 121 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)