The message of Sicario is trite. We know that the drug war creates as many problems as it combats, and we know we’ve played roles, intentional and inadvertent. But the execution of a story about it is ballsy. I give director Denis Villeneuve and writer Taylor Sheridan, and Lionsgate, credit for showing this story with a real edge.
FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is asked to join an elite team taking the fight south of the border. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) recruits Kate and gives her just enough information to keep her going deeper before she’s in too far, and the head of the team, Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) says nothing.
Villeneuve stages scenes full of activity, so the agents are invading fully populated worlds, not just the parts set up for their action scene. In particular, a tracking shot begins on a handball court and follows a caravan of black jeeps. From inside, the agents are just looking around, trying to see a potential threat while they hear all the staticky voices on their coms. It creates a sense of suspense and distraction by all the different sources of stimuli.
The procedure completely demonstrates how the Americans actually instigate violence just by acting all defensive with guns. It’s effective on its own, so it feels a little insulting when Kate starts articulating exactly what we just saw with our own eyes. We can figure out that the violence is self-perpetuating. Character development is also on the nose. A point is made that Kate is divorced and has no kids. Whoa, so like she has no attachments, man.
Tech talk does a good job of insinuating us into the elite team, and pep talks show us how soldiers are motivated by shallow metaphors. A sequence intercutting green night vision with negative image is effective. Perhaps its best at night, as another striking image is a silhouetted figure approaching in the dark. Daylight just looks sloppy. The opening shots may have been overexposed for aesthetic reasons, but it only looks like they didn’t know how digital cameras capture daylight.
The film does a good job shifting focus between characters. I was never bored. I was only annoyed by the pretense of sociopolitical awareness, but I so admire the balls it takes to do some of the things I won’t spoil, that I’m glad Sicario exists.