There is a quiet terror about the 2015 Denis Villeneuve directorial Sicario. At a simplistic level, the Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin movie is an action-thriller. But the film is actually about how wars dehumanise us. Death becomes a number, an injured survivor a liability, you look at everything with suspicion. You are drained — emotionally, mentally and physically. The brain stops working, nerves break and the body wants to give up. That is war and those are the kind of effects it has on the psyche that Sicario throws light on, with its fast-paced script and well-enacted performances.
Sicario, which translates to ‘Hitman’ in Spanish, centres around an upstanding FBI agent Kate Macer (an excellent Emily Blunt), who is called upon by the US government to target the leader of a powerful Mexican drug cartel. Along the way, Kate meets Josh Brolin’s CIA agent Matt Graver and Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro Gillick (a former prosecutor-turned-assassin). Soon Kate learns through Alejandro that she has entered the ‘Land of Wolves.’ But our heroine is no wolf, she is a responsible uniform who is skilled at her job. But there is one thing Kate cannot do — compromise on her morals. SPOILER ALERT, she has to in the end, nearly everyone does when they are threatened with their lives.
The performances are top-notch. It is still unfathomable why Sicario didn’t win anything in the acting category at Oscars despite fantastic turns by the cast, especially Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. Emily is us — the moral compass of the movie, the person that grounds it and makes it real. Her responses, her body language as the brave but scared out of her wits Kate, is so tangible that you feel you can extend your arms and touch her. There are two favourite sequences in Sicario which speak volumes of her prowess as an artiste. One is during the famous ‘Border cross’ scene, and the other is towards the end of the movie — the one-on-one interaction that takes place between Alejandro and Kate.
The ‘Border scene’ is THE scene because apart from Emily’s acting skills, it shines for its direction, as well as the action choreography. The action is swift, the gun fight that takes place between the two groups of people is brutal, basic and quick. That is how life is, and the scene’s tension is heightened further by Kate’s response to the battle. She is nervous, she is cussing and she has a pistol in her hand for emergency. The second is of course all about the acting of del Toro and Blunt. That ending scene is significant because it is there that we see Kate’s moral shifting, and not only shifting, but breaking because of pressure. So human, so crucial that we see this part of the system too. Of how people are coerced into conversion, into doing things they don’t want to do until it becomes a habit and they stop feeling the guilt, like Alejandro, or even Brolin’s CIA agent.
Hollywood Rewind: Edge of Tomorrow | Spy Kids | 1998’s Godzilla | The Others | Phone Booth | Wild | Scream | The Godfather Part II | One Fine Day | True Romance | Little Women | Face-off | Pulp Fiction | Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon | The Age of Innocence | Mean Girls | Die Hard | Never Been Kissed | Citizen Kane | Kill Bill Volume I | Terminator 2 Judgment Day | Titanic | Heat | Home Alone | Jerry Maguire | Brief Encounter | The Truman Show | The Deer Hunter | The Shining | Clueless | Ferris Bueller’s Day Off | Blue Velvet | Taxi Driver | The Lord of the Rings I | Zero Dark Thirty | The Godfather | Say Anything | Warm Bodies | Bright Star | Malcolm X | Stardust | Red Eye | Notting Hill | Fargo | The Virgin Suicides | The Breakfast Club | Enchanted | Walk the Line | Blood Diamond | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Mortal Kombat | Bridges of Madison County | Edward Scissorhands | Breakfast at Tiffany’s | She’s Gotta Have It | Ever After | The Devil Wears Prada | The Matrix | Creed | Mulan | Ratatouille | Shutter Island | Her | Dead Poets Society | Sleepless in Seattle | Waitress | Pride and Prejudice | The Dark Knight | Before Sunset | School of Rock | About a Boy | A Few Good Men | 50/50 | Begin Again | Brooklyn | Drive | Chocolat | Batman Begins | 10 Things I Hate About You | The Departed | Freedom Writers | Pretty Woman | Dan in Real Life | Jurassic Park | Tangled | Meet Joe Black | Monster’s Ball | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | You’ve Got Mail | Half Nelson | Fight Club | Doubt | American Psycho | Julie and Julia | Forrest Gump | The Silence of the Lambs | Finding Neverland | Roman Holiday| American History X | Tropic Thunder | Before Sunrise | Scent of a Woman | Finding Forrester | Sixteen Candles
Decorated cinematographer Roger Deakins’ work needs to be acknowledged as well. His camera is bare, unflinching in its gaze as it zooms in on Emily’s face or even the barren lands and traffic-filled roads in the aforementioned border bit. In an earlier interview, Emily Blunt had showered praise on the camera work by the veteran artiste saying, “What I find so impressive about ‘Sicario’ is that the amazing Roger Deakins used that camera as another character. It’s that prowling, surveying camera that focuses on what you think you see and don’t see. So I just love that ‘Sicario’ is really uncompromising about how little information you’re given.”
Sicario was nominated for three Oscars, none in directing, writing or acting categories, unfortunately.
You can watch the film on Google Play.