Sicario is one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen. That isn’t because the subject matter is bizarre or the film itself is avant-garde. No, what is strange about Denis Villeneuve’s latest is that in spite of all the visual excellence and skillful acting on display the film is largely ineffective. Sicario is a movie without a story or a soul, a beautiful corpse.

Great Cinematography? Check.

And this movie really is beautiful. Roger Deakins is one of the world’s most celebrated cinematographers and his work in Sicario shows you why. There is not a single scene in the film that is anything less than gorgeous. Desert wastelands stretch out towards distant horizons, lonely highways lead into walls of impenetrable darkness, and a dingy bus terminal transforms into a dehumanizing holding pen. In Sicario even the most mundane locations are given a menacing, otherworldly quality.

Great Acting? Check and Check.

The acting is equally wonderful with great performances from all members of the cast.

Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro are the film’s leads and each gives a stellar performance. Mr. Del Toro is especially noteworthy as he carries the last quarter of the movie and gives Sicario what little personality it has. The sense of menace and malice that he brings to his role as a good man gone wrong is one of the very few things that you will stay with you when the credits roll. Ms. Blunt and Mr. Brolin don’t have nearly as much to work with, but still manage to bring humanity to their one-dimensional characters.

The supporting cast also turns in exceptional performances and their contributions are what make the long buildup to the climax bearable. Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernandez, and Julio Cedillo infuse their otherwise tepid scenes with tension and power through affecting and memorable acting.

Great Story? Er, well…

The story is where Sicario falls flat, and it does so in a big way. Sicario is a movie about people wrestling with the idea that they must become evil to fight evil. I wish I could say that there was something more to it, that there was an insight or revelation to be found, but there isn’t. Bad guys are really bad and we have to be just as bad or badder in order to win and maybe it just isn’t worth it. There you go, that’s Sicario.

Not only is the story bland, but it is told in an incompetent manner. The film begins with the police raiding a drug den and finding a collection of decomposing bodies in the wall. Not one individual body. But bodies. Why would a drug cartel remorseless enough to kill that many people bother to keep the corpses? Why didn’t they just bury them, burn them, or dissolve them in lye? Because those bodies needed to be there in order to advance the plot, that’s why. Sicario displays this kind of laziness from start to finish. The worst offense involves a rubber band that is apparently exclusive to a single drug cartel. The mere presence of said band is enough to tip off a character, who up to that point has been given no reason to suspect anything is amiss, that she is in mortal danger. It is such dumb idea and implemented so clumsily that it completely ruins a scene that should have been terrifying.

The incompetence of the script is also apparent in its retrograde portrayal of Mexico. In Sicario, Mexico is a part of Middle-earth, with marauding gangs of tatted up goons and mutilated bodies hanging from overpasses. The only Mexican who has any sort of depth is a corrupt police officer, and the entirety of that depth is that he has a wife and son to whom he shows some affection. The officer also seems to live in a tiny house in the middle of nowhere even though both the government and the drug cartels are paying him. Because all Mexicans are poor, I guess?

Summary

Watching Sicario is like eating an unsalted boiled potato off of a golden plate; the presentation is exquisite, but there is no flavor, no substance. If you’re the kind who can enjoy a movie based on the cinematography and acting alone then Sicario is for you. Anyone looking for more had better look somewhere else.

What were your thoughts on Sicario? Did I just not get it? Tell me in the comments.

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