SICARIO. Thriller masterpiece by Dennis Villeneuve

In one of the scenes in Sicario, played by Josh Brolin, a special agent explains to a corrupt and severely beaten police officer…

Krzysztof Walecki

30 January 2024

SICARIO. Thriller masterpiece by Dennis Villeneuve

… that there is a bright side to the situation – no one will notice a few more blows. Denis Villeneuve’s film is based on a similar philosophy, allowing characters to justify the violence they employ. Given that they are fighting a drug cartel capable of decapitating people and hanging their mutilated bodies in public view, the line between what is permissible and what is necessary to defeat the enemy practically disappears. However, there is a person who sees things differently.

FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is invited to a special anti-drug unit after discovering dozens of bodies hidden in the walls of a suburban house during a raid. These turn out to be victims of a Mexican cartel that is increasingly active on the American side of the border. To strike them where it hurts the most, the team led by Matt (Brolin) decides to conduct an operation in Juarez to eliminate the drug organization’s leaders. However, Kate begins to have doubts about whether the end justifies the means in this case. Sicario it is.

Sicario Emily Blunt

A similar moral question was the theme of the Canadian director’s previous film, Prisoners, in which the father of a kidnapped girl tried to use torture to extract information from a suspect. However, in that case, the tragedy directly affected the protagonist, a typical everyman easier to empathize with. Sicario takes a different perspective. Kate believes in the righteousness of her actions as she represents the law. However, this only gives her as much freedom as is outlined in the regulations. Therefore, when doubts arise, she questions her superiors, even though she knows the answer perfectly well. She is an idealist who is fortunate enough to handle firearms expertly, giving her an appearance of strength in a predominantly male world. She also sees the methods used by the enemy, understanding how unequal the fight is, which only confirms the righteousness of her superiors’ actions. However, this is not enough to convince her.

Sicario Benicio Del Toro

Especially since Kate is kept in the dark for most of the film, much like the audience. Dragged from one place to another without any explanations, left to her own devices but still unwavering. Initially, this approach is intriguing and generates tension, but after a while, I was simply tired of constant misdirections and omissions. I couldn’t understand Kate, who desperately wanted to know the purpose of the entire operation and the rules governing this world. It seemed to me like a chaotic situation devoid of reference points, difficult to navigate, let alone control. Where ruthlessness is the only way to gain something.

Sicario border setpiece

In Sicario Villeneuve creates an overwhelming nightmare on the screen, a reality that is easy to believe but difficult to accept. He is so convincing that the atmosphere of distrust and constant suspicion lingers in the viewer long after leaving the cinema. However, the screenplay by Taylor Sheridan is far from perfect. It falls apart, constantly searching for the story it truly wants to tell. Initially, it seems like a fairly realistic portrayal of the war on the drug trade, stylistically similar to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which addressed the fight against terrorism. However, the screenwriter is more interested in manipulating Kate, her helplessness, and ultimately the futility of her actions. But even that seems to be not enough – at some point, the story shifts its focus from FBI agent Kate to Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a taciturn “expert” in fighting cartels. In the end, analysis and evaluation give way to sensationalism.

Sicario Emily Blunt

The director of Sicario does not justify the actions of his characters, but he explains that such extreme approaches can bring the best results. People like Matt and Alejandro appear to us not as heroic guardians of the law, but rather as cynical pretenders or disillusioned pawns. They are aware of this to such an extent that every decision related to Kate is seen in a dual light. There is no need for her to be like them. Perhaps that’s why they don’t tell her everything, keeping her in the shadows and making her just a pawn. Not in idealism but in ignorance, and then submission. Villeneuve seems to see salvation in that, both for the body and soul of his protagonist. This thought disturbs me more than the bodies found in the prologue.

Innocent scenes of breakfast with family or going to a bar to have a drink and dance raise questions about the role of these moments in the spectacle of violence. Tense action sequences – especially the initial raid and the ambush on the highway – focus less on entertainment and spectacle and more on anxiety and fear. Cars tightly packed together create a sense of a trap (enhanced by the outstanding cinematography of Roger Deakins), further emphasized by the fact that Kate never leaves her car for a moment, while everyone else does. When we see her later through night vision, wandering in the darkness, she once again resembles a person in a trap. But she doesn’t give up.

Sicario Josh Brolin

I regret that the director of Sicario didn’t let her go further. Ultimately, it is not Macer who reaches the heart of darkness – she is replaced and, in a way, spared. In the final stretch, Villeneuve succumbs to the classic motif of revenge, which robs the main character of her voice, and the audience of answers about what she would do in the ultimate test. There are casualties in the finale, but the arguments no longer clash. There was never a chance for that. Perhaps there was no will either.