This review of Sicario was written for Reel Girl by Christine Mathias.
Emily Blunt is now known as one of the actresses who can “do action” — using guns, getting physical, and, in most cases, be the only woman amongst a cadre of men in films that like to go boom.
She was the star of “Edge of Tomorrow” despite Tom Cruise’s presence (see it, by the way, it’s fantastic.) But in spite of the fact that a zillion actresses other than Blunt, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence, and Angelina Jolie could definitely carry an action movie or thriller, studios have yet to catch up. Blunt herself told a story on Stephen Colbert recently that the producers of “Sicario” offered to double the budget if her character, FBI Agent Kate Macer, was rewritten as a man. Obviously the filmmakers declined, which contributed to my decision to plunk down some cash for it. If they fought so hard for Macer to be a woman, it must have feminist undertones, yes? She must stand out in some way as the heroic badass? Not really in the way I was expecting, but that’s OK.
The movie is very, very good — an examination of drug cartels, the law enforcement on both sides of the border that gets wrapped up in the international narcotics trade, and the price paid by all involved when money and politics clashes with horrific violence. A scene in which illegal immigrants snatched up by police or border patrol await their chartered-bus rides back to Mexico puts a pretty grave face on the immigration issue that is currently fodder for Presidential candidates. It’s relevant, gripping stuff. The tension comes from the movie’s silences — it’s spare, from front to back. Long moments of quiet, wide shots of Juarez, Mexico and the stretches of land between “us” and “them.” People think in this movie, and the director lets you see it. You see ideas dawn on people’s faces, you see characters deciding what to lie about and what to ‘fess up to, and it makes for a tense, gently twisty film. Kate Macer is FBI called to join a task force of sorts, but we don’t understand why, exactly, until it’s clear she’s the audience cypher with a bit more gun-handling skill. We are her— throughout the movie you can see her considering every angle, trying to figure out everyone’s motivations, as we are.
So ostensibly she’s the center of the movie, the eyes through which we see, the person we relate to the most, and she’s given much more to do than almost anyone. Seriously, not a lot of dialogue going on. Blunt plays Macer quietly, and it challenged my expectations of what a “strong” woman’s role can be — as in, it can still be strong if the character doesn’t always have the upper hand, or if she’s shown portraying vulnerability, or if she’s kind of an introvert. The important thing, to me, was that the other characters, the male characters, treated her like an equal. No overt sexism, no mollycoddling, Macer is respected for her hard work and is, in fact, chosen for her tactical experience. But the movie pulls a big bait-and-switch that I won’t give away— suffice to say that, in the end, it isn’t Kate Macer’s story. Which is too bad.
Christine Mathias rates “Sicario” HH/ S
Reel Girl ratings system: movies can get 1 to 3 H’s for “Heroine” and 1 – 3 S’s for gender stereotyping. H’s are good, S’s are bad.
Christine Mathias is a broadcaster, producer, writer, and Feminist Malcontent who has decided to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Supporters of the Patriarchy. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @NerdAlert19