by Sam Robinson
Rated MA15+. Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin. Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
“Sicario” is a Spanish word that means “hitman”. Helpfully, this is explained in the opening titles of Sicario, the new thriller from Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) – before you’re thrown into a two-hour assault on the senses.
Sicario opens with a bang: FBI agents conduct a raid on a house in a small town in Arizona. The scene is brutal: the walls of the house are lined with countless dead, rotting bodies; and a backyard explosion scatters dust, and body parts. This isn’t a film for the squeamish.
Following these events, FBI agent on the scene Kate Macer (Blunt) is enlisted to join a task force to head into Mexico and take down a drug dealer whose actions are causing nightly chaos and loss of life. She teams up with Alejandro (the excellent del Toro) and Matt Graver (Brolin) and together they risk their lives in extremely dangerous situations – including a thrilling hunt down a rabbit hole, seen through thermal and night vision.
There’s lots to like in Sicario. Emily Blunt is excellent in this, and will likely receive an Oscar nomination for her performance as Kate. The soundscape adds a great deal to the drama, with traditional scores traded for pulsating stings. Villeneuve has crafted a film that treads the line between being both beautiful and repulsive at the same time. He uses slow aerial shots of mountainous landscapes to display the arid starkness of land south of the US border, and wide landscapes reveal cool evenings and stunning sunsets. Contrasted to this beauty though is plenty to make you feel disgust – including white knuckle moments as shootouts take place, and situations that make even the toughest FBI agent vomit. There’s injustice all through this film: innocent people suffer, children die, and as you’d expect in a film like this – there’s corruption from within the heroes.
Sicario goes to great lengths to paint the border between the US and Mexico as a barrier between safety and danger. On one side lies good, the other is corruption and evil. This is shown in an early scene where the FBI team cross the border southwards, and need to be escorted by dozens of police with guns. But as the film goes on, this concept is blurred. The line between good and evil isn’t so clear, as evil is shown from within the human heart – no matter what side of the border the person belongs.
‘To find him would be like discovering a vaccine.’
The above quote describes what one character believes would happen if the drug lord was found and taken down: crime would decrease, lives would be saved. And while this might be the case, Sicario reveals that perhaps there’s more to the story. For one bad guy taken off the streets does not make a city immune to evil.
The Bible tells us that our world is broken. Our world is fallen. By nature we are evil – turning away from the good God that created us (Romans 3:23). As a result, this world is a mess. But Jesus has entered the world to offer true, unending vaccine: salvation. He promises that all who trust in him will be saved.
Sicario doesn’t show us the way to salvation, but it does show us how corrupt humanity is. Perhaps my favourite shot of the film is of a beautifully coloured sunset with silhouettes of the taskforce in front, about to undertake an operation. It reminded me of the corruption of the human heart compared to God’s beauty and goodness. To think that he would trade our sin for Jesus’ righteousness is incredible.
If you can cope with violence, and intensity, go and see Sicario. Take your friends and discuss afterwards who in the film is most evil, and why; and what the movie says about corruption. It could lead to some fruitful conversations. I’m giving it four-and-a-half out of five stars.
Sicario releases in Australia this Thursday 24th September, in the US on Friday 2nd October, and the UK on Thursday, 8th October.