Sicario

Quebecois Denis Villeneuve, who made a big splash a few years back with a brutal film called Incendies, and followed it up with the equally brutal American film Prisoners, has brought us—well, hold on to your hats, here—a brutal film about cartels in America called Sicario. Don’t get me wrong, these are good movies, but brutality is their hallmark, and in particular, brutality at an intimate level.

Which may be why they don’t do boffo box office.

Prisoners featured Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, among a few big names, and grossed about $60M. Sicario has Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin and probably won’t make quite that much.

By the way, I have the same reaction to Emily Blunt as I always do when I see she’s in a movie. It goes something like “I’m not going to like you in this role. You’re really not suited to be this character….Damn, that’s actually pretty good…”

Heh. I don’t know what that is. She looks so frail, physically, and while her features are not, say, Nicole-Kidman-delicate she looks like she could be feisty at most.  This particular role is more like Edge of Tomorrow’s veteran soldier, in that she plays a hard-bitten DEA officer who personally goes on raids with her team, only to find increasing levels of brutality.

See, he's going to eat her. Big Bad Wolf style.
Here we see Ms. Blunt misinterpreting del Toro when he says “We should stop for lunch.”

It is with this in mind that she’s drafted/volunteers/deceived into Josh Brolin’s DHS special task force which conducts missions on and over the border. Who Brolin is isn’t clear, and even less clear is the role that Benicio del Toro plays, except that they’re not exactly “by the book”. But they will stop at nothing to get the cartels under control, that is clear.

Well, nothing except for decriminalizing drugs and thereby dropping the price of them while simultaneously increasing availability, thus drying up the gangster’s resources. I mean, that couldn’t possibly work.

The face of a tax evader.
Al Capone says “Prohibition: It’s for the kiddies, see?”

Sorry, civil libertarianism aside: This movie raises the question of “How much are you really willing to do to stop the cartels?” Because the cartels themselves have literally no limits whatsoever. At the same time, Villeneuve does not present Brolin and del Toro (especially) as heroes. They are willing to do anything to get the cartels under control, including murder, foe or friend.

It’s very tense. There’s a point in the second act where it feels like the movie’s going off the rails and getting into details of Blunt’s character that don’t have any place in this action-oriented suspense film. Suffice to say: Nope, it all fits in, and not in any sort of subtle way. The level of paranoia, suspense, conspiracy, etc., just goes through the roof. And Blunt is really excellent.

I’m not sure how I feel about the end. It made sense, from Blunt’s character’s standpoint but maybe not so much for del Toro’s. The original one was much more brutal, and I suspect it was rejected because its perhaps more logical resolution did not resonate well with audiences.

Things are looking UP in Mexico!
The Mayor of Juarez objected that his city hadn’t looked like this since early September.

Anyway, I was sort of laughing because all three of the principles have worked together on different projects. Brolin and del Toro were rivals in No Country For Old Men, while Blunt and del Toro were sort-of love interests in The Wolf Man.

Another connection: The Coen brothers’ cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who also worked on No Country (and O! Brother, A Serious Man, Fargo, etc.) did the cinematography here, and it’s breathtaking. We saw this right after Wildlike, and I kept thinking: “This! This is how you shoot a movie!” But, of course, it’s hardly significant to point out that your little indie flick doesn’t compare to the work of a man who is possibly the greatest living cinematographer.

Anyway, it’s gorgeous, on top of being a supremely suspenseful film. The Boy and I both liked it, although The Boy thought the climactic action sequence with del Toro was too Hollywood, and that the movie had seemed like it was trying to be a more gritty, realistic affair. I don’t think I’d disagree: It was very Hollywood. Also very brutal.

As the movie notes up front, the Sicarii were Jewish terrorists who would stab Romans and Roman sympathizers with their daggers (sicae), and then fade away into the crowd. Which is kind of brutal.

Get the idea?

All she needs now is for an alien to jump out.
This looks so pleasant, I think I’ll take my next vacation in one of these cross-border tunnels.

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