This is really unfortunate. “Sicario” is one of those frustrating movies where they came so close to greatness but somehow missed something so obvious that the entire movie falters. The worst part about it is, one major change and you have an amazing movie. As it is, there’s still a lot to like about it. Oh, but it could have been so much better.
The word “Sicario” refers to many things, as the opening text tells us, but most importantly in Spanish it’s a word for “Hitman”. The movie opens by introducing us to our main character, Kate Macer (played by Emily Blunt). She’s a by-the-books rookie leading an FBI swat team. Their job seems to be cleaning up the carnage left by drug dealers from Mexico. She’s young with a bright future ahead of her as evidenced by her sterling record. She’s recruited by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who wants her for his mysterious task force. These guys, as made clear by Graver’s lack of professionalism and flip-flops, are the real deal. She’s dragged into a dark and extremely dangerous war against the cartels. Graver doesn’t tell her much and his ace consultant, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), tells her even less.
The cinematographer is Roger Deacons, and it becomes clear very early on in the movie. Some of the shots in this are incredible, from the stylish and grizzly action scenes to the cityscapes and countryside. “Sicario” is a very pretty movie, you know, despite all the horror and violence. The story is also really good, with a topic that’s relevant and complicated, making the characters question what’s moral and just when the crime is so rampant and out of control. It’s an important subject, especially given the real life parallels in Mexico today.
So here we have a movie that’s well acted, well shot, and has an interesting story. Where does it go wrong? Why am I complaining about it? The answer is actually quite simple. This movie has the wrong main character.
Kate serves a purpose as the audience surrogate, a character that knows little and is dragged into a new situation learning everything as we (the audience) do. This makes exposition feel more natural, since there’s a character that needs everything explained. In theory this is fine, and it works most of the time. Here however, it was the wrong approach. Almost from the first scene he has, Benicio del Toro demands attention. He has a certain quality that makes him interesting, even just to look at. His actions here are purposeful and mysterious. He clearly knows everything there is to know about the cartels and the drug war. He’s a scene stealer, but he’s so much more.
Late into the plot, we learn his true identity as well as his history with the drug lords and the illusive Fausto, the kingpin they’ve been hunting the whole movie. Not only is his connection deeply personal, but it by far solidifies him as the most compelling, and the most crucial, character in the movie. The action packed finale, which I’ll note is entire free of Kate, is simply incredible and almost worth the entire movie just to see. It made me wonder why that wasn’t the movie the entire time. Why did we spend so much of the plot with the character that is the least involved in the story?
Emily Blunt is a fine actress, and her character does actually serve an amusing purpose here, but she is horribly written as the protagonist. She would have been better served as a supporting character and a bookend; a good intro into this horrifying new world and a nice ending where she decides if this is a world she can continue to work in. That’s really all she’s needed for. The true main character – the title character, mind you – is forced to the side and given only the last act of the movie when the entire thing should have been his.
I honestly hope “Sicario” gets a sequel. It needs one. To say the movie left me wanting more is an understatement. They really had something here but they didn’t see it. Given another go, maybe they can get it right.