Watching movies for the Oscars is hard. Because not all of them are movies that you would normally go to see if you were just heading out for an evening at the cinema. So while I’d heard about “Sicario”, it’s not necessarily one that I would have chosen to go see if I were spending an evening out, because I just know that I’m not great at sitting still and paying attention during a movie about the drug war, and cross-border issues. And that’s an actual genre of film and television – think “Traffic” or “The Bridge”. So while this movie was definitely not my cup of tea, there were a lot of interesting things that were able to keep my attention for slightly longer than others. From here on out I’ll be talking spoilers, so if you plan on seeing it, or don’t care to be spoiled, head directly down to the trailer, after which non-spoilery information will follow.
This movie is brutal. The movie opens with FBI Agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya, who I recognized from Black Mirror) along with their team raiding the home of a drug dealer, and discovering that there had been a horrific number of grisly murders, along with bodies stashed in the walls, due to immigrants getting caught up in the cartel world. It’s horrible. And the scene that follows everything where Kate just showers and tries to wash off the horror of her day…it’s relatable, and at the same time not because it’s just too horrible to imagine. You have to be an amazing kind of person to get through that situation without just collapsing and weeping. And Kate is so amazing, that she gets brought in on a multi-agency task force that’s hoping to hit the cartel where it hurts.
This striking back at the Cartel involves a very likely illegal run into Juarez (just across the border from El Paso) to kidnap an informant who knows about the tunnels between Juarez and Texas. The pickup and trip in are not so difficult, especially with border patrol on both sides waiving them through. The problem is on the return trip when – despite going through the turnstile without having to the turnstiles without stopping – they are caught up in the line at the border getting in to the U.S. It’s fascinating to see the shots that they got of the lines and the traffic at the border, because it shows just how porous the movement of people through our countries really is (even just with legal crossings).
Thinking about the movie now, it almost makes me think of a messed-up, cartel-themed Wizard of Oz. Kate is our Dorothy – unknowing about all the wonders of the new world, dropped into a journey with a group of men who need her in order to do their job (she’s FBI, they’re CIA, and without her – they aren’t allowed to work within the country), but who are trying to find the “wizard”, in this case, the kingpin of the cartel. Benicio del Toro plays the mostly silent (but friendly to Kate) agent of unknown origin who seems to be a major influencer in their operations. I won’t completely spoil things, but seeing how del Toro’s character is used, and what his end-goal is almost disappointing. He plays the character of Alejandro so mysteriously and with such taciturn benevolence, that to see him with crude goals seems beneath his potential.
Sicario is not nominated for any of the major creative (acting, writing, directing) Academy Awards. Instead, it’s nominations come in the fields of sound editing*, original score, and cinematography. As you can see from the still above, their cinematographer did an EXCELLENT job. It’s a beautiful and interesting looking movie that gives a really good look at all the scales of drug trafficking and the war on illegal drug trade. From amazing views through night vision goggles and the barely risen sun, to moving panoramas over the Bridge of the Americas…it’s a really good looking movie.
Would I watch it again? Probably not. Am I glad I saw it? Definitely – it’s one of the more interesting and faster paced films in this genre that I’ve seen, and it covers a lot of interesting ground, while being visually stunning. Worth your time, but know yourself and your preferences.
More Information: “Sicario”, written by Taylor Sheridan, directed by Denis Villeneuve. Available on DVD/Blu-Ray, On Demand and VOD (Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, etc.).
Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing.
*PS – are you wondering what sound editing is and how it’s different than sound mixing? My friend Em used to write a webcomic, and she used my annual Oscar Party (and Winston) to explain the difference. Thanks for providing a great reference Em!