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SICARIO Movie Review

Article by James Kidd


Going into Sicario, the latest from director Denis Villeneuve of Prisoners and Enemy fame, I honestly didn’t know what to expect, especially with such contrasting opinions about its quality. When the movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, many attendees reportedly shrugged it off as yet another drug-war drama, with some taking offence to the supposed demonization of Mexico and its surrounding areas. However, now that the film has moved up to a wider release, many reviewers are disagreeing greatly with this sentiment, instead praising it as a subversion of many action and military movie clichés that have become so prevalent in recent years. So, which of these sides does Sicario fall down on? Mostly the former, unfortunately.


In a nail-biting, tension-filled opening scene, Sicario presents us with FBI agent Kate Macy (Emily Blunt), a badass leader of an elite SWAT team, as she literally trucks into a home in Arizona to investigate a hostage situation. While there, her team happens upon a much more grisly scene than expected, ending in an explosion that kills a handful of her partners. Seeking justice for her fallen teammates, as well as answers, Kate aligns with CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who is unusually casual about his duties, and his mysterious partner, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), as they hunt down the Mexican cartel boss responsible for the event. Kate, however, quickly becomes suspicious of Graver and Gillick’s true motives after witnessing some highly unethical acts followed through on their orders.

From here, one would think expect Kate to be the focus of the film, but then, one would be mostly wrong. Despite the audience seeing most of the film’s events through her eyes, Kate is gradually shoved off screen in exchange for the show-stealing Benicio Del Toro. This move particularly blindsided me, but while this could be seen as a critique on female characters frequently being relegated to secondary characters, it felt much more jarring and awkward than anything. Despite this, Blunt still gives an enjoyable performance as a fighter of truth and justice caught in a web of intrigue. The focus on Del Toro’s Alejandro is far from a bad thing though, as the true motivations and identity of his character drives the film and was the primary reason for me to keep watching. Other characters, like Kate’s partner (Daniel Kaluuya) and Brolin, also bring depth to their performances as they try to keep up with the ongoing conspiracy.


Director Denis Villeneuve, having sharpened up his skills on Prisoners, is certainly no stranger to the technical aspects of film making, so it is no surprise that Sicario looks and sounds fantastic. The cinematography and sharp editing, while maybe not award-worthy, looks great and puts the audience on edge throughout even the quietest moments. I found myself sweating up a storm from the amount of tension in one particularly dramatic scene. These scenes also benefit from top notch foley and sound work, especially with the weapon fire, which is something I haven’t experienced with a movie since last year’s  Fury.

Despite all its praise, there is one glaring issue that drug Sicario from greatness for me (and this is kind of a big one): the plot. The way the story progresses is by dangling the mystery of the CIA’s intentions in Mexico, as well as by keeping the audience guessing as to who Alejandro really is and why he’s even bothering to help Kate at times. By the end of the film, these answers are unceremoniously tossed out at us as the movie concludes. Avoiding spoiler territory, these reveals don’t feel very satisfying by the climax, and left me wanting more. These lackluster decisions in the script make what could have been an engaging story into a straightforward plot where there is only the illusion of something deeper happening in the background. Plus, many things that other reviewers praised as subversive, like the sidelining of Blunt’s character and the fact that no one seems to remember her African American FBI partner, seem more like oversights than anything else.


Sicario features a fantastic cast and is well crafted technically, but doesn’t provide enough satisfaction in the end to all the questions and intrigue that is built up throughout the film. Villeneuve seemingly settled for just average this time around, and I can’t just help but be disappointed. Sicario could have been so much more in the end.

Overall Rating: 7/10

James Kidd
Raised up on Bruce Timm's DC cartoons, Edgar Wright, and all kinds of video games, Jimmy was destined from birth to become a massive nerd. Majoring in English at Clemson University, he plans to become a journalism so he can finally put his film elitism to use, as well as possibly becoming a screenwriter (provided he finds the time).

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