Sicario – Mexican slang for hitman, as the title card tells us – is a gripping, brutal thriller set in the heart of Mexico’s drug wars. From the opening scene where a hostage rescue team discovers nothing but rotting corpses and rigged explosives, the film’s unrelenting tension and bleak outlook provide a discomforting but fascinating experience.
The film’s protagonist Kate (Emily Blunt) is an idealistic but highly capable FBI agent whose drive to find the people responsible for the disastrous rescue mission leads her to agreeing to join an elite task force in Mexico, who will be tracking down an elusive and dangerous cartel boss. Kate and her amicable partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) are continuously lied to and used by the people they are working for, their trust and abilities manipulated for purposes they are not allowed to understand. Kate’s position as the only woman on the team, as well as her implicit role as the female lead of an action film, is crucial to flipping expectations of how the film will progress. She is not the clichéd, infinitely strong, gun-toting heroine, but is instead made a victim of the system she is trying to uphold.
Kate follows orders from the cheerily amoral Matt (Josh Brolin) and his troubled, mysterious partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro). Their destructive, unrepentant drive to find the cartel leader regardless of the ethics of how this is achieved is representative of the ambiguity of US power and control in countries south of the border. Torture and brutal shootouts among innocent bystanders are not shied away from, and the sound of distant gunfire pervades the film. The questionable representation of Mexico is that of a ruthless, alien country that resembles a war zone more than anything else. No one can be trusted, violence and corruption are everywhere, and there seems to be no hope for anyone despite what side of the war they fall on.
Though Sicario is undoubtedly relentless and bleak, its fast moving pace and the plot’s many twists and turns keep it from being too dark to stomach. The absorbing action sequences as well as the complexity of the characters mean that despite its overarching nihilism and brutality, it remains riveting and thoroughly entertaining.
Sicario was reviewed at Cineworld Fountainbridge
Image: gage skidmor; Flickr