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2015 (121 min) director: Denis Villeneuve
writer: Taylor Sheridan
starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro

– January 15, 2016

Sicario is not your father's The Specialist. To that point, I need only point to the music: which is mostly absent, the majority of the film carrying no score; and which, when present, is more atmospheric sound than score, a mix between playing repetitive loops of heavy machinery to create scene and synthetically-metaphoric 'heartbeats' from horror films. That use of score matches the general direction of the film: atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere; choosing the long shot over the closeup, the slow crawl over the frantic charge. From that standpoint, Sicario is a remarkable film to watch.

But, let us not be mistaken. Sicario is, absolutely, your father's The Specialist. It is entirely a vengeance movie mashed up with some Bourne-era, special ops action. They are of equal intelligence; and of equal complexity. This is mostly visible in how the direction, writing, and general narrative logic of the film tends to break down whenever Emily Blunt takes center stage. She may be the focus of the film, but narratively she's as pointless as his her character to the operation in Juarez: she's just a means through which to tell the story of Alejandro's pursuit of Fausto, which is really not so much a story as an extended action sequence, if one told in lento tempo. Kate Macer (Blunt) is cut out of cardboard, and is developed primarily through blunt assertion (pun unintentional) and plot contrivance. Had the story actually been focused on Blunt, Sicario might have made for a really intruiguing film. But, like so many ventures (I think of Netflix's atrociously bad Daredevil), the writers were far more interested in the baddies than they were in the main character. And the film speaks such.

Ultimately, the film comes off for me as a magnificent technical exercise by director Denis Villeneuve, who was able to make a fascinating visual experience out of a entirely generic, banal script. I imagine this scene in development:

"Who would be the most generic, predictable, seen-it-a-hundred-times-already, make-the-film-absolutely-recognizable-for-middle-america actor to cast for Alejandro?"

"Sylvester Stallone."

"Has to be hispanic."

"Benicio del Toro."