Klavan On The Culture

"Sicario:" Tough as Nails Crime Story

The fine American novelist Edith Wharton is said to have remarked disdainfully to novelist and critic William Dean Howells that American theater goers: “wanted to be harrowed (and even slightly shocked) from eight till ten-thirty, and then consoled and reassured before eleven.” To which Howells is said to have replied, “Yes, what the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending.”

Could be. I certainly find myself surprised that LionsGate’s relentlessly hardboiled, honest and brutal crime story Sicario is doing decent business and getting good reviews. My wife walked out because of the violence, but I loved it. It stuck with me too. I can’t get it out of my head.

Adorable anti-conservative Emily Blunt plays an FBI SWAT Team leader (as if), who gets recruited by a testosterone-overloaded band of CIA agents to help takedown a Mexican drug cartel. Josh Brolin (who is spectacularly good) plays the top macho spy guy, and Benecio del  Toro (always good) plays a mysterious nobody-knows-exactly-what. It’s directed by Denis Villeneuve who did Prisoners, which I also thought tough and fine.

The violence really is rough, especially at the beginning. But what I thought was so terrific was the attitude and honesty. I kept expecting it to go soft but it never did. There was one stupid liberal-moral-equivalence line where a drug dealer suggests he learned his brutal techniques from American law enforcement (again, as if), but otherwise the morality stays gray throughout and you root for the good guys to do some very bad things.

And on top of everything else, it contains an actual realistic depiction of exactly what happens when a woman punches a man as hard as she can in the face. Trust me, it does not look like Fury Road.

If you’ve got the stomach for it, this is really compelling stuff.