Sep 29, 2015

Thrilling drug war.


Grade: B

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners)

Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice)

Rating: R

Runtime: 121 min

by John DeSando

“Learn, that’s why you’re here.” Matt (Josh Brolin)

So Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt), as an FBI agent in kidnapping cases, learns more than she bargained for as she volunteers for a crossover assignment on a drug bust mission south of the border in Sicario (meaning “hitman”). Although the covert operation to get a drug lord is expertly directed by Denis Villeneuve, the depiction of heroine Kate leaves me in need of a milder drug, aspirin.

The headache is from watching Kate enter into an assignment without knowing the complete objective, with a perplexed look most of the time because the men keep knowledge from her and a sad face perpetually confused:   “Just lay back, Baby. Let it Happen,” says a paternalistic agent. Fortunately the men have the meaty, macho roles to make this a good thriller that seems to reflect the worsening drug war in Mexico.

Yes, I was looking for a steely protagonist perhaps like Jessica Chastain’s in Zero Dark Thirty, so I committed a cardinal critical sin of having specific expectations rather than just letting things happen myself. Kate does ask Matt, What’s our objective?” He replies, “To dramatically overreact.”

When Kate is seduced by a robust agent, I cringed at this agent-leader’s naiveté. Yet, it fits with the clueless operative she is on the drug assignment. Not that I demand Lara Croft: I just wanted a heroine worthy of the promise her kidnapping responsibilities would have given.

Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro are successful as agent of the governments’ “whatever-it-takes” philosophy in the war. In fact, they are regularly menacing and humorous. When they take a convoy into Juarez, it’s as good a suspense sequence as you will see in any thriller anytime.

Likewise Sicario’s propulsive music and powerful photography of the desert give the otherworldly despair to the proceedings. The cinematography captures the desert’s heat and accompanying danger.

However that female lead character is a disappointment in gender and heroic terms.

“You saw things you shouldn't have seen.” Matt

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at