In the last 3 days, I watched two films directed by Denis Villeneuve. Both have a female protagonist. Both are excellent. The two are very different stories, but are alike because the female actor gives an outstanding performance. In this post I’ll review Sicario starring Emily Blunt. The other Villeneuve film I recently reviewed is Arrival. There are spoilers ahead.
Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent working near the Arizona/Mexico border trying to stop the flow of drugs from Mexico. Dave Jennings (Victor Garber) is her boss. Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) is her partner. We meet the three of them at a gruesome scene where plastic wrapped decaying bodies have been stuffed into the walls of a house. Two agents are killed by an explosion when they attempt to search a space under a shed.
Jennings calls Kate and Reggie to a strange meeting. He’s there with Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and a man known only as Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Jennings asks his agents to volunteer for a mission. He won’t tell them anything about the mission, but does say they will go after the people responsible for the two deaths from the explosion.
Sicario was dark and gritty. The high tech tools of the FBI were displayed from aerial views. Helicopters and satellites were used to follow cars and body heat. We saw a muddy river and desert landscapes from above, then came down to human level for the action scenes.
Matt Graver and Alejandro lead the mission, which was sketchy from the first minute. They won’t tell Kate anything about what they are doing. They want her there but tell her to stay back. They go into Mexico illegally and remove a man. When pressed, they explain they want to upset the Mexican cartel jefe.
They find a tunnel under the border where drugs are moved and raid it. They raid a bank where money is laundered. In the process of all these illegal actions dozens of people are killed. Kate insists she’s going to blow the whistle on what’s happening. She continues to ask why she’s there.
Emily Blunt is 5’7″ tall, so she isn’t a tiny woman. But she was made to look small, willowy and weak against the backdrop of the many men in riot gear who surrounded her. She showed her strength in many ways, but physically she was no match for the violent men around her.
She finally learns what’s up. Alejandro wants to get to the Mexican cartel jefe to kill him. All their actions are designed upset the situation enough so that the American cartel boss will cross the border. Then they can follow him to the location of the Mexican boss.
If they have Kate on the team, when it’s all over she can write a report for the FBI that says it was all done by the book. The beauty of the way the film unfolds is that we solve the mystery of what Kate’s role is at the same time Kate does.
She gets shot at, beaten, strangled, and has a gun held to her throat to get her to sign the FBI report. She’s used – a pawn in their game. Her life is disregarded, her emotions shredded. She’s left alive, but Alejandro advises her to move to a small town away from the war on drugs. She could shoot him as he walks away, but she doesn’t.
What does Kate Macer do next? We don’t know. I want a second film with Emily Blunt in this role. I want to know where she goes, what she does, and how she survives this brutal assault.
Based on the way Emily Blunt played Kate Macer, I think Kate straightens her spine and fights back. It’s not acceptable to her that the good guys are as criminal and bloodstained as the bad guys. Taylor Sheridan wrote Sicario. He wrote a strong, complex, moral character in Kate Macer. She’s a voice we need in these times. I hope her story isn’t over.
Sicario earned numerous award nominations for Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Denis Villeneuve. It wasn’t a big winner, but a frequent nominee. I avoided it for a long time because the previews made it look merely violent. But it’s a human story, and a very good one. Emily Blunt digs under your skin with Kate Macer.