It’s hard to talk about something that makes you feel as if you’ve been hit in the gut. It’s an unmistakable sensation; you experience something that no one wants to experience, and your stomach drops as you’re filled with hopelessness. After watching “Sicario”, a friend commented, “Yeah, that’s the thing about movies, they can take you to really unique, different worlds… but sometimes you end up where you don’t want to go.” “Sicario” operates on its determination to not pull any gut punches as it takes you to the world of the War on Drugs, from the border cities in Texas, to Juarez, Mexico. And while the social commentary of the film lies in the abhorred barrios where the police lights illuminate the nighttime, its brilliance lies in the way it renders you unable to move your eyes from the dreadful sights on the screen.
Director Dennis Villeneuve’s film seems to be in constant twilight, drenched in a dehydrated yellow that makes rough edges rougher. Its the kind of twilight that causes things that would be clear in normal lighting uncertain; the kind of twilight that hints at the secrets just beyond that uncertainty. And that uncertainty is exactly what grabs ahold of you and pulls you through the unbearable sights of decapitated corpses hanging off of over passes, and suburban houses containing walls lined with the bodies of the Cartel victims. It’s the uncertainty that lies beneath any form of investigative process, the one that, against all reason, whispers, “Maybe this case can be solved, maybe good will prevail…”
The story is told from the perspective of Emily Blunt’s character, Kate Macy, a fresh, by-the-book FBI agent who joins a special task force assigned with the duty of bringing down the head of the Juarez Cartel. This task force is headed by “Matt”, played by an interestingly nonchalant but dangerous Josh Brolin. Serving as a consultant is “Alejandro”, played by the classically brooding, resigned, and reserved Benicio Del Toro. We follow Kate as she tries to figure out the real intentions of this odd task force, all the while clinging to the false hope inspired by the uncertainty of the entire situation. She goes through the movie trying to stay within the law, trying to do some good, but is constantly challenged by the unknown motives of Matt and Alejandro.
The film easily embraces the battle between the two philosophies: “the ends justify the means”, and the moralistic, “two wrongs can’t make a right”. Matt and Alejandro constantly remind Kate of the horrors committed by the Cartel on both sides of the border. But, to her, their way of dealing with it is just as horrific. Kate doesn’t believe taking lives can save lives, even if the lives you are taking are those of killers. Idealistically, they should go to jail. But the law is fallible, argues Matt. Its impossible to put bad people in jail without a case. So if you know they are bad, and don’t have a case against them, how else can you get rid of them?
Despite the difference in philosophies, the task force keeps Kate around, and she doesn’t know why. Perhaps they need her perspective, or perhaps they only need her FBI status to sign off on all the atrocities they commit. Nonetheless, uncertainty looms throughout the film, although Kate maintains hope. It’s not until the final two scenes where all questions are answered, all hope is removed and replaced by a familiar and specific dread. The dread that was pervasive throughout the film; the dread we should have seen coming all along. It’s just that it takes a gun to the head of an idealist for her to realize this, and dismiss all hope.
Though “Sicario” paints a very bleak picture, it does so with incredible color. It enthralls visually, diegetically, and emotionally. Although it leaves you feeling as if you have been punched in the stomach, it invokes an emotional response that will stick with you for a long time, and the best movies are those that stick with you.