I needn’t speak for the superlative direction, incredible score and cinematography of Villeneuve’s work – they speak for themselves.
What I consider one of Sicario’s greatest strengths, and I think it’s most subtle, is its critique of the military macho-archetype that was honed and popularised in the 80s films. This finds its legacy in films such as American Sniper, Green Zone and the Hurt Locker. The many anonymous military men that surround Blunt throughout the film are portrayed as faceless, testosterone-laced meat-bags. They are pointedly not depicted as attractive, existing only to kill, and to quash any moral qualms about having to do so. They seem far more weighed down by the metric ton of military gear they are wearing (which Villeneuve makes the depressingly innovative choice not to fetishize) in than any guilt for what they are doing. This is the genius of Blunt’s character, and what I think makes her a true feminist leading role. She is not the badass action hero, who is more often than not simply a female approximation of that overly-simplistic and immoral killing machine that was so prevalent in 80s cinema. Although incredibly skilled at her job, she takes no delight in killing, and is constantly questioning the legality of the system she is unwittingly caught in. She is anything but passive. It is the badass action hero who is in fact the passive archetype, for she only reinforces the supremacy of the male hero she emulates, and thus further denies women a unique and nuanced voice in cinema.
A key moment in the film underscores how the military-industrial complex, and the movies that glamorise and legitimatise it (consciously or not), negatively affect not just women, but all of us. One of the film’s major characters, a black man, has been punched to the floor, and is being restrained via a boot to his chest. At the end of this boot is an ex-military goon, who threateningly cautions him to “just let it happen”. Clearly deliberately meant to evoke the rape of a female, this is intended to deliberately emasculate him, and has a malignant undercurrent of white domination and slavery running beneath it.
The tightly drilled combat unit, and the battle-hardened men that compose it, have become a cinematic archetype that is now so prevalent that it is not unreasonable to suggest it has become the unofficial PR wing of the American military. It inculcates in young men – almost always the target audience of these movies – the desire to attain this apparent apogee of masculinity, and by extension trivialises the relatively effeminate lives of the audience members. The implication is that the only pathway to making this male-fantasy more than an exercise in pure indulgence is the (American) military. Sicario shows us the inevitable illegality that dwells in the malevolent shadow cast by a society that refuses to interrogate the veracity of this myth.