In Sicario Emily Blunt plays Kate, a naive FBI agent who gets offered the chance to make a difference in the war on drugs by joining an inter agency task force. Kate soon realises that the other agencies work very differently from her by-the-book approach and she does not approve of their methods.
Kate is obviously very unhappy with the situation from the start and yet she keeps coming back for more for no apparent reason. You would expect some kind of internal conflict to play out where she has to balance her desire to do good on a large scale against the small (and not so small) scale evils that her colleagues do to achieve the same goal. However, this is never really evident and there is little reason to see why she doesn’t just walk away from the deal after the first mission. There is a little hint that she wants to act as a kind of balance to stop the rest of the team from going completely wild but she is only half-hearted about this and so obviously ineffectual that you don’t have to be an FBI agent to work out that it is completely pointless.
There is a nice mix of action and detective/surveillance work but more emphasis is put on the action and gang violence. There are some nice long shots and scenes of the boredom before and after action are captured nicely. City shots of operations over the border in Mexico are brilliantly photographed and you get a real sense of hidden danger on the crowded streets of gang controlled towns.
Emily plays the naive side of Kate so well that it is often easy to forget that she is a competent FBI officer. So when scenes call for her to strap on body armour, night vision and gun if comes as a bit of a shock. That’s not to say that she doesn’t play the badass FBI agent well too but this part of the character is overshadowed by the other part. It is nice to see a more human female character rather than the almost superhuman characters that appear everywhere these days but the balance just doesn’t seem to be quite right.
Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) and Matt (Josh Brolin) form the lead of the team that Kate goes to work with. From the start it is obvious that there is something dodgy about them, especially Matt, I always say you shouldn’t trust a man who wears flip flops and when he is in charge of an FBI team meeting this goes double. Kate can see almost immediately that there is something fishy going but, like us, she is unable to put her finger on exactly what is rotten about the team. Going along with them in the hope that she can make a difference to the drug trade she becomes increasingly concerned about the methods employed by the team. Eventually she hangs about making a nuisance of herself until they tell her what is going on.
Kate’s partner Reggie, played by Daniel Kaluuya who I took ages to recognise as posh Kenneth, is the voice of reason. He seems to be around mostly to point out the obvious to Kate i.e. that what is going on is dangerous and illegal but, more importantly that Kate doesn’t have to go along on the missions. Of course she knows the first point already and doesn’t listen to him on the second so it does make you wonder what he’s doing in the film in the first place.
The action sequences are nicely done and quite realistic and there is a good sense of danger and suspense during the missions. There is a little bit too much of the inherently superior forces of freedom from America kicking the gangs ass. The seeming invulnerability of the American forces and the scheming plans of Matt gets a bit wearing in the end. That said, it is nice that although the main character is irritatingly naive, the film itself is more of a realist and avoids the typical gung-ho idealist ending in favour of a more complicated and gritty one.
There is often quite intrusive and overly dramatic music, even given the dramatic subject matter. This is often distracting and feels a bit patronising. The filming and direction is very good at conveying the mood of a scene and there is no need for an over the top score to hammer the point home.
The overall effect is a bit of a muddled film with some excellent sequences and some interesting moral questions presented in a gritty no-nonsense format that is a little spoiled by some odd character decisions and strange musical choices. Turning an interesting story about the moral dilemmas of fighting organised crime into a personal vendetta at the very end was disappointing.