Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenwriter: Taylor Sheridan
Benicia Del Toro
Runtime: 121 mins
Australian Release Date: 24 September 2015
Previewed at: Roadshow Theatrette, Sydney, on 14 September 2015
The USA has spent billions fighting the unrelenting war against drugs and one of the main battlegrounds is along the USA/Mexican border,. As the fight continues and the body count increases, it provides compelling material for films. The latest exposé, Sicario (Mexican slang for ‘hitman’), directed by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, is a suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat drama that looks at the lengths law enforcement will go to to bring the drug trade under control, but adds further evidence supporting the futility of the exercise. For the truth is, as long as drugs remain illegal, someone will do the dirty work to supply them. A sobering thought, but this is the reality.
After a particularly gruesome outcome in a failed attempt to rescue hostages from a suburban house in Arizona, an idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited to join a covert operation to bring down a major player in one of the Mexican cartels. Kate is particularly shattered by the failed rescue attempt on US turf. Two officers were killed and the terrifying discovery at the hostage site increases her determination to participate in the unravelling of the profitable trade that brings misery to so many people.
The operation is headed by a seemingly straight-shooting agent Matt (Josh Brolin) and his monosyllabic side-kick Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who are setting a trap to catch the Juarez, Mexico-based, drug lord. As their convoy crosses the border into Juarez, Roger Deakins’ cinematography takes us on a journey through what is depicted as sheer hell. Incidentally, it’s high time Deakins won an Oscar – he’s been nominated 12 times! But we digress. As the trap is sprung, the agents get further and further up the supply chain but they also travel more and more into uncharted legal territory. As they do, the big question Kate must ask herself is, do the means justify the ends when you’re not just crossing geographical borders.
The lead performances, without exception, are compelling. Blunt’s face reveals her equivocality when faced with the ‘whatever it takes’ attitude of Matt and Alejandro and the unrevealing, and unsympathetic, expression that Del Toro wears only adds to her confusion - she begins to wonder why she was chosen to join this team of cowboys. Her only solace is fellow cop Reggie, who is her sounding board in the midst of chaos as boundaries are repeatedly transgressed and Kate realises that her moral ethics are being challenged. The atmosphere is enhanced by a fine soundtrack by the renowned Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose Oscar-nominated composition for The Theory Of Everything won him a slew of awards.
At times this is a tough film to watch, but it does look at the drug problem from an angle that leaves you questioning the rationality of ‘the war on drugs,’ regardless of which side of the fence you sit on in the debate surrounding legalization. The bottom line is that as long as it is illegal, the war will rage and innocent people will suffer because of it. Many years ago, Nancy Reagan famously said, “Just say no” to drug usage, but it is films like Sicario that reveal the naivety of that approach and the complexity of this intractable problem.