Sicario opens with a drugs raid on a house whose walls turn out to be lined with 40 rotting corpses. How could anyone live there? Doesn’t the smell bother them? It’s bad enough living in a flat with an overflowing bin and a family of mice. Believe me.
Problems such as this riddle the plot like bullet holes. Emily Blunt plays an FBI agent enlisted by a government task force to bust a Mexican drugs cartel. But she keeps threatening to go public with the unit’s illegal methods, and it’s never clear why a) she doesn’t leave or b) they want her there in the first place. She doesn’t seem to be particularly essential to their mission; at one point they use her as bait, but otherwise she’s just a threat to their secrecy. Does the government not look into someone’s character before hiring them for a secret operation?
These kinds of plot holes are forgivable in a dumb action film, but this poses as a serious, political thriller. It’s so similar to Zero Dark Thirty that it’s almost a sequel; Zero Dark Thirty-Two. Like Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, it sets itself up as a critique of American foreign policy, but ends up an apologist. There’s an interchangeable female protagonist, who’s meant to be our moral compass in the face of all this torture, but – spoiler alert – comes to realise that the ends do in fact justify the means. She’s like a bargain-basement Clarice Starling. She’s Clarice Pigeon.
Blunt is ably supported by Benicio Del Toro (looking a bit like Brad Pitt crossed with a panda), Josh Brolin (looking a bit like Benicio Del Toro) and Victor Garber (looking a lot like Norman Lamb – it’s Silence of the Norman Lambs). But the film doesn’t care about any of its characters, so why should we? The Americans are all unscrupulous meatheads, but hey, they’re out there protecting us apparently; the Mexicans are all squalid sadists and murderous drug barons. Who funded this movie? Donald Trump?
An airless, macho thriller, Sicario isn’t interested in entertainment, but neither is it interested in subversion. For all its posturing as an intelligent study of the war on drugs, it’s actually just another propaganda piece – and a poorly plotted one at that. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, it shares Prisoners‘ gloomy atmosphere and questionable torture scenes. But there’s a fine line between challenging nihilism and pointless defeatism.