Since I saw her first in Wild Target, I have come around to the idea that Emily Blunt can save anything without any apparent effort, and it’s only when I examine my evidence for that idea that I wonder how the hell I came up with it. The evidence up until Sicario seemed to consist of Emily stealing everything but the cameras in All you need is kill, which is inexplicably STILL not the title of Edge of Tomorrow even after they changed the title to make the DVD sell better. She’s magnificent, but it’s one data point.
Make that two. Emily is the paradoxical powerhouse of Sicario, still the star despite getting practically written out of the action. Sicario is like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of conventional Hollywood thrillers. It’s a movie where elite special forces plant an assassin in Mexico to take gruesome revenge on his archenemy, body count and collateral damage be damned. 90% of the time, the hero of the movie and the top billing would be the assassin, and the other 90%, the hero would be a good guy who turned out to be even more bad ass than the assassin despite starting off mild mannered. Watch the trailers, and you think you’re getting the other 90%; Emily Blunt, who has a PhD in badass, is drawn into the lunacy of Mexico’s drug war as the stakes get higher and higher.
The movie takes that idea and puts a cap in the back of its head. Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer is Benicio del Toro’s beard (in fairness, his actual beard needs all the help it can get). The CIA’s special task force doesn’t hire her to be the hero; they just want bureaucratic cover for the operation. If they have someone from the FBI, it’s an inter-agency task force even if it looks like a death squad, and all they want from her is her signature at the end of the project. So instead of getting drawn deeper and deeper into the action, Kate Macer gets pushed further and further out of it the further the plot runs, until finally the camera settles in on Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro killing his way through to his target while Kate’s stuck back in the US wondering what the hell’s happening.
What’s happening is she’s us. She’s ordinary people out of their depth and struggling to find a moral centre in a world which no longer has one. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin are running around doing all the action hero stuff, but the more the camera stays on them, the more we question the wisdom of the age-old mantra that in a bad world you need bad guys to do bad things. The ugly reality is that bad guys do bad things because they like it, or because they can’t see anything else to do, and that no good comes of it. Just ask poor doomed Mexican cop Silvio, whose uniform might as well come with a bullseye on it.
Mind you, while the theme makes sense, the plot doesn’t add up. Kate’s getting rushed non-stop into the idea that to get to the bad guys they have to panic one mid level drug lord into running to the kingpin so that they can finally find the kingpin and put him on all-lead diet. That’s not actually insane, but what beggars understanding is that the USA’s leading domestic death squad can’t think of a better way to get over the border into Mexico than starting a gun battle down a working drug tunnel. This is the most porous border in the world, and they want to cross it in the direction which isn’t even patrolled. Alejandro could stroll across it anywhere. Or get helicoptered in. Or just drive a jeep. Anything, really. And for all the song and dance about trying to find the kingpin, their mid level patsy’s being tracked from the air the whole way to his destination; Alejandro could fly right there and do his business without any need for all the shooting and hijacking which gets him to the payoff.
But if you did that, there’d be no narrative tension! The movie’s breaking its back to avoid that kind of narrative tension in the first place. Which is why I had the time to think “Why so complicated?”. The whole point is that the action is not the point, but there are some long flat patches in this movie where it almost seemed like they’d forgotten what they were really trying to do.
In other news, Michael Weston fans will be delighted to hear that the Burn Notice has been lifted and he got a job as tour guide on the anti-narcotics death squad, keeping Kate Macer entertained with stories of President Taft’s visit to Juarez with a two thousand man escort. Ever the man of a thousand faces, his horn-rimmed glasses held on with a rubber band disguise meant I didn’t quite recognise him till I saw his name in the credits, but at least we didn’t get any accent work.