Sicario is trying to be one of those “shocking” movies that middle aged people talk about at get togethers. “Oh, me and Harold watched Sicario last night. It was so violent. But you know it’s
so important because is really shows how bad the crime in Mexico City is.” (Everyone nods with wide-eyes). Just look at that award bait poster. The movie is about the depths to which federal agents stoop to take down cartels in Mexico City. Unfortunately, it’s as predictable and over-dramatic as that scenario can get.
It’s more interesting in concept. It’s perfect for making its dark brooding trailer which is almost all long shots of landscapes with blaring horns fading to black. It suggests a deeper plot that’s missing in the film. Elongate those long shots of landscapes, multiply them by ten and I’m sure you’d have like 50% of the movie. There’s a lot of build-up and tension that only pays off in obvious ways.
The main character is a female FBI agent who’s tough and has a strong sense of justice but she’s unused to field work. After a traumatic incident while busting a Mexican cartel member she’s out for revenge against the people behind it. In a meeting to decide whether or not she’ll be accepted into a special taskforce to combat them there’s a guy in a flannel shirt and flip-flops while everyone else wears business suits. He noisily chews gum and behaves like the cool kid in class. He’s the guy that runs the taskforce, who’ll obviously show Emily Blunt’s character the rough side of the biz.
The atmosphere building is overblown. When driving around Mexico City we follows the main character’s car as she witnesses acts of brutality from a distance with obnoxious commentary from the other experienced agents. They hear gunshots in the distance. “Those aren’t firecrackers” the guy in front seat points out in all seriousness. It’s too predictable. This naïve police officer is going to be shocked by how “savage” these guys are, we get it.
Tension builds past the point you care about it. You know something bad is going to happen but it’s further away than you’d think and feels unsatisfying because of it. Characters are one-dimensional for the most part without much traits that make them feel real or engaging. Even the main character feels like a passive observer to the events going on and while we feel her discomfort, she often makes dumb decisions for the sake of drama, making her feel even more disconnected.
It reminds me of Training Day. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that movie but I can think of several ways it does the same kind of story better. In Training Day Ethan Hawke’s enthusiasm and moral compass may also obviously set up a dramatic loss of innocence but since that character’s more more relateable it has a larger emotional impact than Sicario does. The villain in it is interesting as well. He feels threatening and genuinely scary. All of Sicario’s characters act in a detatched way that I think was supposed to appear badass but really make them feel bored.
Unlike Training Day it makes the mistake of having a grey moral outlook as well, ruining the significance of its “loss of innocence”. By the end of the film it’s unclear whether characters’ actions were “good” or “bad” or why we should care about them. I don’t have a problem with morally grey movies, but think it becomes a problem when it takes away from the emotional impact.
Sicario isn’t awful but it is annoyingly ineffective.