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Sicario: A Believable & Visceral Plunge into The Mexican Drug War [Review]

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I have to admit, this isn’t my favorite genre.  I’m not so good with gritty realistic action movies.  Give me an animated fantasy with some adult humor, saturated colours and musical numbers any day. So I might be a little hard on Sicario and if I am, it certainly doesn’t deserve it.  It wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t funny, it wasn’t gorgeous but it was very very good.

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

I have to wonder how much of Sicario is based on fact.  My guess would be ‘quite a lot’.  The events of the plot are open to debate, of course, but there are a thousand tiny details that seem absolutely plausible.  Of course that’s partially because the locations and the Mexican Drug war are real.  I get the feeling they could have shown us worse but for the sake of the audience, toned it down.  I would have thought realism would make things boring but it was quite the opposite.  It makes the events more powerful.  Violence is more brutal, waiting is more suspenseful.   The only unbelievable thing in this movie was the fact that the main characters never missed a shot.

150917_MOV_Sicario.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2The cast and acting was really solid, which is crucial as this film is a study of characters and their motivations.  Benicio Del Toro was amazing, as was Josh Brolin.  I have to wonder about the main character, Kate (though Emily Blunt was very convincing, other than her attempt at smoking).  She’s the only woman in the show (besides a handful of nameless extras).  Certainly she’s a strong capable woman, so I feel she represents the gender well, but there was absolutely no reason for her to BE a woman.  Or to put it another way, there was absolutely no reason that there weren’t MORE women out of all the characters we’re shown.   She is literally the only woman in a situation where all other characters, (bad and good) are men.  This can’t have been accidental as nothing in movies is, but I have to wonder why they made that decision?

As for writing, the pacing was a bit slow in the beginning but it’s remarkable how well writer Taylor Sheridan can turn a scene.  Each character has a goal that they are trying to attain and we know what it is – in every scene (amazing how few writers can actually pull this off).  The characters conflict, something unexpected happens and the scene resolves in a way that propels the plot forward.

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The impressive part of this is that the movie does not hold your hand.  There seems to be very little in the way of exposition – events happen and the characters piece them together later, along with the audience. Thematically it’s a Disillusionment Plot –  idealism is subjected to a high stakes situation where the practical rules of the situation in no way resemble ethics as we’ve been taught them.  Can you hold to your principles when your life or the lives of others are at stake?  Should you?  This movie has something to say about that, the story unfolds slowly into an exploration on the subject and its answer (at the movie’s end) seems inevitable.

I’m not sure how much I’ll think about this movie now that I’ve seen it.  I’m certainly not going to see it again, so it might fail the Movie Chinese Food Test.   But maybe not – I’ll never be able to hear about the Mexican Drug Cartels again without thinking of Sicario.

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