From the bold opening of an FBI raid, Sicario (slang for ‘hitman’ in Mexico) creates both an uncanny distance from its viewer and a veritable sense of engagement and fascination with the events transpiring. The cool, inhibited camerawork glides icily over the stark Arizonian landscape. The raid seemingly succeeds, but then to the dismay of unswerving agent Kate (Emily Blunt) a dozen corpses are discovered along the walls of the house.
Through a conventional, albeit intensely executed opening, Dennis Villeneuve (director) maintains a methodical, explicit approach to executing action; he consistently heightens the intensity by aptly balancing silence and clamour, detachment and catharsis. His attempt to tread similar grounds through fresh revisionism partially succeeds as Kate attempts to find the men responsible for violence inflicted on innocents. Her idealism and virtuosity are constantly undercut by the dogmatic pessimism of Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro’s characters and the elaborate web of corruption on both sides of the United States border.
As the story develops, Kate – more perplexed and dormant to the apathetic corruption within her team – is slowly shunned out the picture, as the film takes a turn, to follow a more conservative revenge narrative. While some viewers might consider this clever or bracing, I found it both disjointed from the film’s primary concerns and a blighted departure from Villeneuve’s typical thematic subtlety.
The first stems from thematic inconsistency, the notion of justice and the problematic role of the US on foreign soil. Then it slowly shifts to a critique of hegemonic masculinity and ethnocentrism and culminates in an arc of regressive vengeance. Some of these concerns are undoubtedly interesting at first but their subsequent treatment is too sporadic and lacking proper deconstruction. Here I refer both to the transient characters, the (deficient) streamlining of plot and thematic discourse, as well as the irregularity of thematic shifts.
Although its absorbing colour palette – a mix of translucent beige, cool blues and dark greens – polished aesthetic and sheer intensity of build-up save the film from complete failure, its lack of character and coherence make it a remarkably underwhelming and discrepant piece of work. It could have said something refreshing about the US intelligence service or the impact of its involvement on foreign soil. Despite this conflict’s subtle confirmation in the film’s final sequence, it becomes implausible due to the little time spent developing this political side in favour of action. This delivers in the blockbuster tradition, not too far from the conformist likes of Taken or a recent Statham flick, but it is not in keeping with the aesthetic of Sicario.
If political deconstruction is not its primary concern, its exploration of gender hierarchy and masculine hegemony is equally sterile. This is evidenced by an under-used Emily Blunt, which further undermines the development of complex patriarchal figures. While its action scenes prove visually stimulating, the third act relinquishes even this striking effect. It suffices as some mild entertainment, with fleeting moments of visual beauty, but viewers looking for deeper engagement may walk out disappointed. If interested in more visceral Villeneuve try Incendies (2010) or otherwise the hypnotic Lynchian complexity that is Enemy (2014).