Every so often you see a movie that feels special. The acting, action, dialogue and filming are so well-executed that, at times, you forget you’re watching a movie. Such was the case for me as I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. Villeneuve’s past two films Prisoners and Enemy‘s dark themes stayed with me long after the credits rolled and I’m glad to say that that trend continues with Sicario.
Sicario, Spanish for “hitman”, stars Emily Blunt (Kate Mercer), Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro) and Josh Brolin (Matt Graver). Graver enlists FBI agent Kate Mercer on a mission to take down a drug lord who is kidnapping and killing people all over Mexico and the bordering states. The line between the U.S. and Mexico are not the only boundaries that will be blurred in this film. In this morally ambiguous tale, we’re left to wonder: do the ends really justify the means? By design, Sicario will not make that an easy question to answer. Rather, it will lay out its case as any good trial lawyer would, using only the facts, and forcing you to take a side.
As we move throughout the story, we’re introduced to Alejandro, a mysterious man well-versed in cartel activity. Over and over again, we see Mercer unable and often unwilling to face the task at hand and we’re left wondering along with her, why she is there? Clearly this team of elite agents and soldiers do not need a rookie like her. The answer to that is much harder for her to stomach than she imagined.
“You saw things you shouldn’t have seen.”
This for me was the one frustrating element of the movie. Emily Blunt’s character for all of her power, idealism and individuality always felt like a victim and never a victor. At every turn she was being held down, sometimes physically, by the government, her team or by her enemies. Although, probably a very realistic view of the helplessness of fighting such a pervasive problem, it left me wanting more from her character. This is not a complaint about Blunt’s acting, which was very impressive, just my inner battle and desire for a happy ending which, let’s be honest, Villeneuve never gives.
“You should move to a small town somewhere where they still believe in the rule of law. You are not a wolf. This is the land of wolves now.”
Sicario is a look at the “necessary” lengths the government will go to keep us “safe.” So the question remains: Do the ends justify the means? As a blogger on a small Christian entertainment site, that question may be a bit above my pay grade. Though, I’m reminded of men like Detrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian who stood against the Nazi regime and even participated in the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. I cannot say what I would have done in the same circumstance, but I can say I would not mourn the loss of Adolf Hitler were it successful. Few would.
In a perfect world, the ends do justify the means, assuming the means don’t involve senseless killings and government cover ups. However, in this case, which I fear is not too far from reality, no, they do not justify it.
Herein lies the power of Sicario: it will make you think. Sitting here on my couch, next to my dog, I’m wrestling with ideas brought up by this morally grey film. As a follower of Christ, I’m saddened by the heartbreaking reality and cold facts portrayed in this film. As a person desiring justice for the atrocities faced by people daily, I celebrate with the team’s victory. It is this ambiguity that makes Sicario one of the most tense and interesting films I’ve seen in a while.
However, it is also the heaviness and hopelessness of the subject matter that is the reason I can’t suggest this to everyone. But, if you do see it, let us know what you think in the comments below and maybe catch Hotel Transyvania 2 to lift your spirits a little after.