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New Release Review - SICARIO

An FBI agent joins up with a murky task force to take down a Mexican cartel.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal




"As a story of a talented woman who comes to realise she's been given a job for reasons other than her professional skill, Sicario serves as an allegory Blunt, and so many, too many, female stars can sadly identify with."





With Netflix's latest original series Narcos and the Vice documentary Cartel Land, the Latin-American drugs trade, with its beyond horrific collateral damage, is very much in vogue. Now comes Denis Villeneuve's Sicario, in which Emily Blunt's FBI agent Kate Mercer is given, along with the audience, a tour of this hellish milieu in the company of the shadowy US forces tasked with keeping the situation under control, having at this point given up on ever winning the war on drugs.
When an operation to rescue hostages from a suburban Arizona home goes awry, resulting in the deaths of two agents, Mercer accepts an assignment to join up with a murky task force led by Matt (Josh Brolin), an ambiguous agent with a shit-eating grin who seems to take great personal enjoyment from causing cross-border chaos. Working alongside Matt is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), an equally suspect Colombian whose true role in the operation is held back from the inquisitive Mercer.
It quickly becomes apparent that Mercer has been duped by these men, who repeatedly keep their intentions secret from Mercer and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya, the latest Black British actor to dupe us into believing he's African-American). An operation to snatch a Mexican druglord from Juarez ends in gunfire and bloodshed at the US border, the Mexican side left strewn with corpses as the Americans return home with their catch. Mercer voices her dislike of the gung-ho methods of Matt, who spins her the usual yarn of 'doing whatever it takes' to win this war. As the operations escalate, 'whatever it takes' comes to mean crossing more than just geographical borders.
Sicario's trailers give the impression that you're in for some 'Emily Blunt kicks cartel ass' action, but the movie is far more nuanced than this suggests. Mercer's role mainly involves her reluctantly tagging along while Matt, Alejandro and various bearded and 'roided up military types cause havoc. Think Lone Survivor, if that problematic movie featured an extra character who asked the sort of questions posed by conscientious critics of that film. In an era when a 'strong female character' is too often simply a male character recast as a woman, it's great to get a female lead like Mercer, who we see visibly scared and increasingly scarred by the scenarios she's thrust into. Unlike so many disingenuous movies, Sicario acknowledges that its female lead is played by an impossibly good looking actress, with Mercer's looks playing a part in her manipulation by murky Matt and mates. As a story of a talented woman who comes to realise she's been given a job for reasons other than her professional skill, Sicario serves as an allegory Blunt, and so many, too many, female stars can sadly identify with.
Given relatively little dialogue for a lead in a major American movie, Blunt has her acting chops tested and comes up trumps. The increasing fear, confusion and paranoia of Mercer is rarely verbally expressed, but Blunt's face tells us all we need to know. Her acting during one of the movie's standout set-pieces - the border crossing massacre - is really something special, as Mercer goes from nervous spectator to unwilling participant. As her eyes traverse from possible Mexican hitmen (the Sicarios of the title) to her trigger happy new colleagues, we quickly learn all is not as clear cut as the line Mercer's superiors sold her.
With the camera locked down, even in the most kinetic action sequences, Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins indulge in a classical form of filmmaking all too rare in this genre. When your characters are this shaky, it's best to keep the camera steady. Following on from last year's Enemy, Villeneuve has become one of the most interesting directors working in mainstream cinema today. Suddenly the idea of a Blade Runner sequel doesn't seem all that bad.



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