Review: ‘Sicario’ is Visceral, Suspenseful, and Scrambled

Jake Bridgman ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Emily Blunt in Sicario. Photo Credit: Lionsgate.
Emily Blunt in Sicario. Photo Credit: Lionsgate.
Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario unfolds itself through the eyes of Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer, drawing viewers into what could have been the darkest, most gruesome, and most thrilling character studies of the year. Kate, a competent FBI task force operative, finds herself way over her head in a protocol-dismissing goose chase through, around, and under the U.S. Mexican border led by the passive yet smiling Department of Justice operative Matt, played by Josh Brolin. They are also accompanied by Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro, a mysterious outsider with a past.  Blunt is able to captivate the audience sympathetically as an innocent character  tossed into a dangerous lawless game of cat-and-mouse between violent cartel smugglers and trigger-happy law enforcement, and therefore you want to see her transform in someway. However, ultimately the narrative throws her to the wind two thirds into the film leaving viewers confused about her role and the actual point of the plot. However what the film lacks in narrative structure and writing, it makes up for in the fantastic performances by Brolin and Blunt; beautiful, minimalist cinematography reminiscent of The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, and a variety of well-directed and phenomenally suspenseful moments.
Sicario builds curious narrative on top of interesting character dynamics, political tension, and the vague mission statement. What the film struggles to address is motive. While a lot of tumultuous scenes inflict unimaginable stress upon Kate, they never seem to have an outward effect on her actions. Essentially, there is not a big shift in character development in the third act where it was so desperately needed. This actually is not Blunt’s fault, however. It is hard to say what happens in the third act without revealing the anti climactic plot twist, but Kate is unable to have successful character development because the focus is stripped from her character, and reluctantly thrown atop another. The film drives Kate down this vicious road of cartel wars and our emotional reaction is based entirely on what happens to her–she is our link into the film, so when she is moved to the back burner, the audience is too, disappointedly so. This is the biggest problem with the film because Villeneuve’s other films (Prisoners and Enemy) rely so heavily on character development and relationship.
Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro in Sicario. Photo Credit: Lionsgate.
Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro in Sicario. Photo Credit: Lionsgate.
If you let yourself let go off the problematic screenplay, the film appeals to viewers fears. Pulling us into a scene only to shatter us in the most vicious way is a speciality of Villeneuve. Villeneuve consistently creates situations that will stop the heart and open the mouth. The film, while apparently intense, is never too fast. The tension comes not from the high speed shootouts audiences are used to, but from slow footsteps through tunnels, shadows on the walls, and slow gazing shots of people watching each other, like something out of a western.  What makes Villeneuve’s gruesome films so powerful is that he never presents them matter-of-factly. Instead, he always bring us into the scene through the character who unknowingly gets it the worst, often crushing an innocence complex. His visceral imagery keeps us engaged regardless on how well-written or not the story is.
Other aspects of the film that keep viewers on their feet are Johann Johannsson’s booming and discordant score derivative of Hans Zimmer’s Inception score stripped down with Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl drones. Brolin performs incredibly well. His timely humor and relaxed atmosphere offers some comic relief while simultaneously keeping us wondering off his ulterior motives.
In Sum, Sicario is visceral thriller that will engage audience members in new ways with the brutal suspense typical of Denis Villeneuve. However, under close inspection it falls apart rapidly with a scrambled narrative that falls to pieces in the third act.
Overall Grade: C+
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