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Review: “Sicario”


It’s “No Country for Old Men” all over again, almost – except in this case it should perhaps be called “No Country for Nice Young Women,” and the killing machine in it is sort of, kind of, on the side of American authorities, for now. Its relentless killer is also of Latin origin (Benicio del Toro, whose intentions remain a mystery until the very end), there are plenty of cowboys and dry landscape, and Josh Brolin is also in it as a morally ambiguous character (though in this case an agent with the “big boys”). Missing from this setup is the mastery of violence and black humor of the Coen brothers who directed “No Country” – the 2008 Best Picture Oscar winner – plus a string of other successes including the classic “Fargo.”

The aggregated rating on IMDB for “No Country” and our subject “Sicario” is so far the same, a very respectable 8.1/10. Both movies have also been rated the same on Rotten Tomatoes, at an even higher 93/100. The verdict is still out on the success of “Sicario” at the box office. Personally, I went in not expecting anything but wasn’t exactly pleasantly surprised.

“Sicario” features morally questionable and trigger-happy American action in the incredibly bloody, barbaric and convoluted drug wars in Mexico. It’s now spilling into Phoenix and the FBI gets pulled in. The movie, directed by the Quebecois Denis Villeneuve, does get points by me for bringing to the attention of an American public probably distracted by ISIS coverage how much their own authorities might be contributing to the bloodbath right across their border.

It also gets points for showing the human side in the midst of a torrent of brutality, including having a loveable morally upright cop like “No Country” does; in this case, as hinted in our opening paragraph, it’s a nice young woman (the highly versatile Emily Blunt) instead of a nice old man. For both of them, their surroundings are getting extremely uncomfortably violent and morally bankrupt.

Discomfort is, indeed, the main emotion Blunt’s character of Kate shows throughout “Sicario.” This is interrupted by bouts of post-traumatic stress and rare wisps of a smile that are almost immediately obliterated. I wonder if Kate will decide to retire early, or be forced to.

The friend who watched the movie with me at Leipzig’s Regina Palast Monday evening said he felt the movie had two main takeaways: that women are weak and that you cannot trust Mexicans. We happen not to agree with either of those things. But I would’ve perhaps felt better if the movie hadn’t started out by fooling me into believing that Kate would be a hero and not a victim.

A Kate clad in FBI combat gear acts very courageously in a drug bust and subsequent explosion. She gets picked to join the morally ambiguous and implacable team of mysterious men. But she’s different. Why couldn’t she turn out to be the most ruthless of them, for a change? It would’ve been a lot more interesting to watch, I think. At least one can say she’s strong in her honesty and idealism, or at least her attempts at it. I wish she could’ve beat the system.

“You’re not a wolf. This has become a land of wolves,” is what Benicio del Toro’s character of Alejandro ends up telling Kate, after equating her with a little girl. What a disappointment; for a while there I thought he was treating her as an equal, or at least as equally bad as he treats the men in the movie.

But wait, it gets worse: Earlier, Kate’s FBI partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) remarks on her bra being too plain, her eyebrows being a mess and her personal hygiene being poor because she keeps wearing the same T-shirt. He accuses her of “looking like a beast” and tells her others think the same of her; although she manages to keep her lipstick on and her clothes clean throughout a movie in which no five minutes pass without a violent incident, most of the time involving her.

All other female characters in the movie are merely decoration. As for Mexicans: All immigrants, also decoration in the movie, seem to be dealt with as possible drug carriers. Plus the nice cop still holding things together in Mexico with a kid and wife might also turn out to be dirty. And – spoiler alert – dead meat too? Another disappointment. Though the locals seem to be used to it.

And again, not so much of a surprise. I must say I would’ve been quite surprised, rather, by a truly feminist, stereotype-defying Hollywood movie.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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