I didn’t really like it on initial viewing but I had missed the first 15-20 minutes or so, so I definitely had to rewatch it. I actually kinda/sorta liked it this time, I enjoyed Emily Blunt’s performance (even though her character’s pretty much a blank slate), and I found the film fairly compelling for the most part. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problems that Denis Villeneuve’s films always do.
I was reading Reverse Shot‘s review of the movie and came across a term I absolutely loved – they were trying to figure out what kind of director Villeneuve is and described him as one of two things (and couldn’t decide between the two). The first thing they described him as was a “director savant” – someone who’s preternaturally gifted in one aspect of filmmaking but completely oblivious in others. The second thing was something about insidious cynicism but I kinda stopped paying attention because this was absolutely the best description of Denis Villeneuve I could have hoped for and I’m definitely gonna steal it because Sicario, like many other Villeneuve films, is really well done technically. His direction is always very good, his films are very well shot, edited, scored, etc., but the actual plot and content of his films tend to be extremely silly and Villeneuve’s attempts at creating moral ambiguity are heavy-handed. The final one-third of Sicario, for example, contains a twist that is actually pretty decent as far as twists go (the one regarding Medellin) and the whole situation is actually inherently morally ambiguous – but then the filmmakers feel the need to pile on a ridiculous and preposterous “action scene” that strains credulity and a final scene of violence that practically screams in your face, “Look how morally ambiguous this is!” and then further still underline it all by showing us how helpless and out of depth one character in particular is. Villeneuve may start with a grounded and somewhat realistic approach, his directorial style being very restrained and whatnot, but his plots and themes increasingly lose grip on reality as the film goes on.
Sicario also can’t hide its subtle sexism. I mean, forgetting for a moment that this is another in a long list of films where a character is motivated by a dead wife (or as in this case a dead wife and child), Blunt’s character as I mentioned is more or less a blank slate – an audience stand in for all intents and purposes. She’s introduced as a capable but naive FBI agent. This isn’t bad by any means; however, as the film goes on, she’s shown to be increasingly incompetent and stupid and constantly in need of being rescued by the male characters – to the point that she seems to simply go along with whatever’s happening without really asking any questions. I mean, she does ask questions but doesn’t force the issue in any way and it isn’t until her partner comes up and properly asks the Brolin character what’s going on and threatens to quit if he doesn’t answer (and it’s only then that Blunt’s character thinks of that threat as well, saying “I’ll quit too“) that they actually get some answers they’re looking for. I can buy scenes like her walking into the bank despite being told not to as coming from her naivete and idealistic trust in the system and doing things “by the book,” but combined with the rest of the scenes and moments both little (like the one I mentioned above) and big (and this isn’t a case where the actual situation somehow is sexist because the characters themselves don’t actually behave in any way that’s sexist), the film itself just comes across as sexist.