On the surface, I think I expected Sicario to be a simpler movie than it turned out to be. I went in prepared for shootouts and explosions, the standard action fare, and there was plenty of that, but the film managed to be surprisingly heady without being heavy-handed.
On an aesthetic level, the movie works quite well shot-by-shot in portraying the delicate nature of the struggle between border-states and the cartels. The aerial views of desert landscapes and urban neighborhoods convey that idea of a crisis lurking just beyond increasingly flimsy borders. The portrayal of corruption and brutality on both sides of the conflict rarely felt gratuitous to me, and more importantly, it came off as even-handed. The script certainly reaches beyond good-guys and bad-guys with its themes, and it conveys the idea that there is no clean way to fight.
Sicario’s greatest strength may be in its performances. Josh Brolin is convincing, and even perversely likeable as a government operative whose jurisdiction and character are always questionable. As the familiar rough-man-with-checkered-past, Benicio del Toro is solid, if a little formulaic, and Emily Blunt’s lead has great chemistry with Daniel Kaluuya.
I have some minor complaints with the script. Blunt’s character feels entirely too naïve. For a woman we’re introduced to as she kicks in a door and guns down a cartel henchman, it doesn’t add up. I know they want her character to serve as a surrogate for audience, but she shouldn’t feel as overwhelmed and unprepared for what she sees as is the audience. The reveal about del Toro’s character also hit me as an anticlimax. It’s teased before it happens. Some people who know him give their condolences, so it’s clear he’s tragedy-stricken, but this in conjunction with his “mysterious stranger” demeanor feel a little like a paint-by-numbers character sketch. There’s also a parallel plot with a Mexican state police officer that’s given just enough screen time to raise your expectations for a bigger payoff than it provides.
None of my gripes amount to a particularly big deal. If you sit down to watch Sicario, you’ll find yourself entertained, and probably even somewhat challenged. It moves at a good pace, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. It isn’t as graphic as it could be, though it has its share of shock value, so if you’ve got a particular sensitivity to these things, you may want to stay clear. Otherwise, I’d say Sicario is worth a look.