Oscar Outlook: Sicario

Back in college when I helped pay my bills by working as a script reader, the “mind trip” movie was the genre du jour thanks to the success of films like The Matrix and The Sixth Sense. I don’t know if they are necessarily a genre, but the whole crop of “mind trip” movies are, on the whole, my least favorite kind of films.

Thing is, there is a big difference between having a twist ending that packs a giant wallop because it earned it with carefully planted clues along the way and then there are movies like the Shyamalan oeuvre. Some are boring and dull until something comes out of left field in the final act. Others are just so obviously telegraphed (I’m looking at you, The Prestige), that we get to the big reveal and I am like, “And?”

But, the unexpected twists and turns of this year’s Oscar contender Sicario were all complex, well-executed, and surprising without being stupid. In other words, they earned it.

The story starts with Emily Blunt, an FBI agent, who is asked by her bosses to join a special task force alongside people from the Department of Defense and CIA, namely characters played by Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro, who takes his Oscar-winning role in Traffic (2000) and turns it on his head. Together, this band of people from various facets of the government manage to extradite the brother of the drug lord they are trying to take down, but it turns out their mission is about so much more.

Blunt watches as Brolin and Del Toro bend the rules to their breaking point and struggles with her conscience and her emotions trying to reconcile what she is doing. In the end, you’d be surprised to see the path she chooses to take, but that is far from the only surprise in this movie, which starts as a matter-of-fact police film, then morphs into a character study of two very different people, Blunt and Del Toro, and yet another commentary on just how unwinnable the war on drugs really is.

I was a big fan of the aforementioned Traffic which, while grim, ended with a little bit of hope in the form of stadium lights illuminating a Mexican baseball field. Pessimistic as I may seem, I like when there is at least a little room for hope in these movies, but Sicario offers no such consolation. For that, I really admire the film which, unlike last year’s Birdman, opts for the truer resolution over the happier one. Hope is great and all, but that is what the State of the Union is for. Sometimes, it is more important to get the point across than soften it with something that rings false.

I’ve heard a lot of people push for Del Toro to get another Supporting Actor nod for his turn here. While I think he does great work (and his performance works even better if you’ve seen Traffic and how much these characters are the same yet so different), the Supporting Actor field is one of the few overcrowded ones we have this Oscar season, that I just don’t see it happening. The guys in Spotlight and Stallone didn’t manage SAG nods, nor did Del Toro, so I figure he is at the back of the line for a role that is simply too similar to one he already won an Oscar for. (Notice the comedy of saying this is something we’ve seen Del Toro do before yet somehow all of the sudden Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky Balboa for a SEVENTH time is rivaling Mark Rylance’s perfect performance in Bridge of Spies as the frontrunner.)

Since it wouldn’t be one of my posts without a nitpick, I will say that Blunt, while a phenomenal actress, has a terrible American accent and I caught her slipping into her natural British dialect not just on the occasional word, but whole sentences. Really though, other than that, there is little to complain about with Sicario other than to warn you squeamish folks like me that the first five minutes are pretty brutal to take. Nonetheless, this movie marks the first change in my top five since starting this series, so if I can grin and bear it, you can and should too.

My Rolling Top Five
1. Bridge of Spies
2. Inside Out
3. Going Clear
4. Sicario
5. The Intern

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