FF39 - Sicario

Intro by John Roderick

This was the first movie we've watched where we disagreed profoundly, not about the big issues raised by the film, but about the construction of the film itself. "What a nerd fest!", you are thinking. No! It wasn't Ben and Adam fighting over what cinematographer uses the most intriguing focal length, but it was me being uncharacteristically crotchety. The very tangible pork chop-itude of this film was marred by a screenwriting flaw so fundamental I couldn't get past it and the ensuing disagreement among your co-hosts as to whether that flaw spoiled the film grew so heated, well, we almost Colombian-necktied each other over it. Thankfully, We survived.

We have covered the background of the drug wars before. From panicky laws about jazz cigarettes and admittedly jazz heroine through racist Nixonian divide and conquer tactics to Reaganian military industrial complex escalation symbolism to fait accompli lukewarm potato Obama-inertia to our present state of dingeling-trigger-happy intransigence. Meanwhile the supply side of this backgammon game has only grown in wealth and paranoia, brutality and power. The outcome never changes: Tremendous blood and treasure is wasted, entrenched powers retrench, the impoverished are victims of unthinkable violence and then disproportionately punished by corrupt authorities looking for scapegoats.

Meanwhile drugs and cash flow unabated. But as far as this story goes: My God! Sicario plays out as the darkest of all sports movies. The FBI and a motley off-the-book intra-agency-team of tight-ends and wide-receivers suit up and then take the field once again to face their longtime adversary: The cartel. They just want to make a few great plays and move that ball down the field and across the border a couple of times until it's in position to sneak in and kill 19 guys, a cop and a honcho and his family sitting at the dinner.

Because this isn't a game or a war that anyone wins, we are left to root for individuals instead of teams. Well, do we root for Kate Macer, the frontline hardened FBI agent played by Emily Blunt who desperately wants to make a difference but can't find an intelligible path? Or is it the shadowy Alejandro played by Benicio Del Toro, a man with an almost comforting level of confident murderousness in his eyes? Or do we love Matt Graver, the Josh Brolin character, imperturbed by everything but more knowledgeable than anyone enjoying the bloodsport, despite maybe knowing and reveling in its futility? It is hard to choose because Sicario is fashionably set in a world of moral relativism.

Everyone is tarred with bad deeds or complicity in bad deeds or complacency toward complicity in bad deeds. It's like this: If your best friend in 11th grade steals a can of Copenhagen from the Quickie Mart and you take a dip from the can in the back of French class the following day, are you not also guilty of larceny? My conscience says you are, but Sicario flatters us with its hobbesianism. We smart movie-goers can handle the unvarnished truth, we are no Pollyannas who think life provides easy answers. Look, you guys: There is no good and no bad, only shades of grey. Cool. OK. Dramatic drug war solved! Back to insider trading.

What is completely good about Sicario is the tension. You feel it viscerally! The border crossing scene, which feels like the gnarly climax of a fairly decent action movie all on its own, isn't even halfway into the movie. Hell, this picture begins inside a home literally insulated with dead bodies, which incidentally have an insulating value of R16. This is thrill-a-minute filmmaking and it's unquestionably comedic and engrossing. There's one problem, though: We argue about this film in part because films with strong points of view engender strong opinions. I objected to a core inconsistency in the actions of the main character that kept yanking me out of the film during all the best parts, a problem my co-hosts were able to overlook in favor of the film's many other virtues.

It happens that in this one instance I was correct and they were both wrong and dumb but that fact in no way reinforces any kind of general precedent or overarching theme within the show. I admit that my sticking point may seem small. My rating is probably too low and I was too hard on Ben. The whole thing is akin to me hating Brad Pitt's fake German accent in Seven Years in Tibet. I hated it so much that it's all I remember about the film, but that is also a perfect example because his German accent was bad enough that he should have had his toenails removed with pliers. I apologize for nothing!

Anyway: By the end of this movie most of the supporting characters are either spiritually broken or dead, nothing lasting is accomplished, the drug business continues on unabated within a culture of revenge, justice and spent ammunition and the movie-going public is rewarded with a sequel that is probably pretty good. Let's hope this time they paid more attention to the script! On today's Friendly Fire n will make sense to your American ears as we review the 2015 Denis Villeneuve directed and Taylor Sheridan written Sicario.

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