Missing True Detective season 2? Well then definitely go see Sicario this weekend if you want more Bad Men spouting aphorisms about the Greater Good, empty plot and even emptier characterization. According to the hype, this is a gorgeous tour de force, with a worthwhile, weighty take on The War on Drugs™, anchored by an engrossing Emily Blunt performance. In actuality, it’s one out of three, and that is very bad. Denis Villeneuve is a great director. But as far as taking on screenplays worthy of his talent, he may have peaked with Enemy.
This film is gorgeous even when ugly things are happening, suspenseful even after you’ve officially checked out on truly caring. What is there to care about, besides the waste of Emily Blunt, who leveled up last year from a career largely spent playing passive romantic foils to murdering Tom Cruise on his own shit as the badass action hero in Edge of Tomorrow. (No shots at Tom, between Blunt and now Rebecca Ferguson, he seems at ease with shepherding this new phase of the action genre.) I wanted to see her kicking down doors and taking names, not reacting meekly to the maverick cliché exploits of (the albeit always welcome) Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro.
They play mysterious men who co-opt Blunt’s Kate Macer from the kidnapping retrieval unit into their chess match against the increasingly encroaching Mexican cartels. But this film has no valuable point to make beyond “extreme enemies call for extreme measures.” The cartel shotcallers are meaningless faceless names...until the script calls for those faces to materialize so they can eat a bullet. In between, Del Toro and Brolin meander from one protracted phase to the next while Macer and her by-the-book partner pout behind them. They’re supposed to be the conscience, I guess. Instead they come across as OD, laughably naive killjoys. Blunt’s Macer is powerless by design. All of this culminates with a plan that seems overkill and a script that never allows Macer to be anything more than passive. Her inevitable, dual solo confrontations with Del Toro and then Brolin aren’t so much genuine as they are a script checkpoint required of all law enforcement movies where the green ingenue is being (obviously) lied to by her bosses.
But maybe Del Toro’s shadowy Alejandro is the real focus? I sure hope that wasn’t the intention: his backstory, revealed laaaate in the third act but to the surprise of no one who’s ever seen more than three crime movies, hints at an interest in themes of mirrored brutality. How absolutely fucking wild is it then that those themes are explored and executed more thoroughly in the laughable cartel-kidnap-thriller Savages—as in, the movie starring Blake Lively, the cardboard cutout from Godzilla and Tim the Truest Detective Riggins?! Which brings us back to that comparison: both Sicario and True Detective Season 2 are frustrating not because they suck, but instead because the puzzle pieces were set out for something great. Only, Nic Pizzolatto and Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan filled in the corners, lazily dumped the rest in their roughly assigned spaces and expected us to care about the picture just because we clearly see what they were going for. (Isolated scenes with a Mexican boy and his father achieve poignancy but desperately try to cover the rest of the movie’s gaping emotional hole, an impossible task.)
When I returned from my midday screening of Sicario, my co-workers were sharing a bottle of Steven Soderbergh’s recently delivered brandy. Random as fuck, for sure. Ironic, though, that an awaiting cup of liquor from the director who helmed Traffic could be such a sobering underliner of how pointless and unaffecting my morning spent with Sicario truly was.