In Sicario, Emily Blunt plays Kate, a by-the-rules FBI officer who is recruited to lend her efforts to the drug war in Juarez. She teams with Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), two seasoned, severe government officials who have worked on the case for some time. Though she wants to help, her efforts are blockaded. Whenever she or partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) question the methods or motives of the mission, they are dismissed, silenced, or threatened. She watches with futility as the higher-ups engage in a war with no clear rules and no clear heroes.
On surface level, Sicario is about an American quest to fell a powerful Mexican drug lord, and the film packs the unnerving tension and graphic violence one might expect from a journey through cartel land. What it offers, as well, is an indictment against our nation’s shadowy tactics on the ground, told through a beautiful ensemble of fine acting, visuals, and music.
Brolin and Del Toro, both excellently sinister in their gun-toting virility, upturn the usual Hollywood heroism tropes of the American soldier in their aggressively unquestionable authority and callously violent temperaments. Blunt’s simultaneously steel-strong and vulnerable Kate and Kaluuya’s admirable Reggie make great foils in their witnessing of cartel carnage and military-industrial phallus contests. And in one of the best visual-musical companionships this year since It Follows, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson contributes a battlefield of a score, sounding like an orchestra of warplanes and guns.
Villeneuve layers the film with deep visual and thematic cues of subjugation, from the posters of missing women in Juarez to Kate’s addiction to Indian Creek cigarettes. Kate is no idealized ass-kicking Katniss, conveying instead the more likely reality of helplessness and frustration as a woman in a covertly schemed and chaotically violent man’s world. It’s an important film, a brave and artful critique in our era of gun-toting, government-issue masculinities stomping upon lives without consequence. It’s a movie against puppeteering political forces and the heroes who begin to resemble villains in their blindly principled vendettas. It’s a movie of the times: one of abject futility. See it.