Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sicario (2015)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer:    Taylor Sheridan
Cast:       Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin

An idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between U.S. and Mexico. 

The film at its core is a thinking man's action film. It is a cold depiction of the American 'War on Drugs' at a macro level. At one point of time Josh Brolin's character states that as long as 20% of Americans snort that 'shit', drug trade is going to be the reality and the only thing they can do is try bring some order into it. It is the neighboring countries in Central and Latin America that gets affected by US' misguided 'War on Drugs' and it got to act when things get out of hand in those countries due to drug trade. It was Colombia in the early days, but now, most of the violence is centered around Mexico. In this film, Del Toro's character kind of represents the Colombian drug cartel going by the name 'Medellin' and he also has a personal score to settle against the head of the Mexican cartel-Sonora. The basic premise is that the FBI agents are attached to the mission basically because CIA cannot act in US domestic soil unless a domestic agency is attached to it and they are helping the Medellin cartel to kill the boss of Sonora cartel. The FBI agents and us, the viewers, are kept in the dark regarding these things and we piece them together over the course of the film. There isn't actually much action during the action set-pieces and it is much more about getting the atmosphere right and they do that with some stunning aerial shots set to some wonderful score and there is a night vision operation in a tunnel towards the end of the film. 

Villeneuve does not bother to pander the audience with great details or explanations and it is often the case with the films for the director to take a stand on the issue. He doesn't do that in an explicit fashion and so the film will be an enjoyable watch even if you are on opposing sides on the issue (US War on Drugs). You kind of root for Del Toro and Josh Brolin even though you know that what they are doing is not going to really help in the large scheme of things. Trying to bring some order into the drug trade is going to be futile since chaos and violence are so intrinsic in nature to these things. Only a policy level change on its so-called 'War' is going to change things and as more and more US states legalize Marijuana, there is hope that things will change soon enough. 

The ultimate 'War on Drugs' movie is Steven Soderbergh's 'Traffic' which is kind of epic in its ambition. It tried to portray the issue from all sides. Sicario doesn't try to do that and I don't think it is an issue at all. There is a Mexican cop character in it, whose family is also shown occasionally throughout the film, and we might think that Denis is trying to show the other side in a tokenistic manner. What is brilliant is how that character is disposed off without bells and whistles keeping in with the overall theme of the film. 'Sicario' is the Spanish word for Hitman and it originates from 'Sicarii', a group of Jewish rebels that used a short sword hidden in their tunics during the times of Roman Empire. 

To sum up, it is an excellent watch with great performances from the terrific cast. Roger Deakins is behind the camera and as always you could see that from the output itself. Denis Villeneuve is slated to direct the Blade Runner project next and I am kind of disappointed by that. I would rather have him direct independent contemporary features instead of all this big budget crap which are either sci-fi or period. Invariably great directors tend to move on to big budget novelty projects after a certain amount of success, and it is very rare to see great ones making films that are contemporary in terms of settings and subject. If I were to rank Denis Villeneuve films, it would be as follows:  

  1. Enemy
  2. Sicario
  3. Incendies
  4. Polytechnique
  5. Prisoners
Rating: 4.5/5