I really hope screenwriters start turning to the lives of the Saints for film ideas.
This is my review of Sicario, which happens to be a sort-of semi-comparative retelling of Saint Rita’s story.
Sicario is the story of Kate Macer, an FBI agent from the Special Weapons and Tactics Team who is recruited for a secretive top mission in Juarez, Mexico. She is accompanied by the sly Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro, brilliantly portrayed by Benecio del Toro. This is the latest film from director Denis Villeneuve, who brought us the film Prisoners in 2013. For me personally, Prisoners was so traumatizing that I started saying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to help me sleep at night. On the bright side, this made Saint Faustina my BFF. Nowadays I will never watch a Denis Villeneuve film without my Saint Faustina medal around my neck.
You’re going to need the soothing presence of the merciful Faustina by your side to survive this brilliantly disturbing film.
Emily Blunt is a very convincing action heroine. The movie never dolls her up. It allows her to have bruises, a black eye and swollen knuckles. I also like the scene where she’s showering and the blood washes from her hair. You know how Saint Joseph never speaks in the Bible and how his character is revealed through his actions and reactions? Emily Blunt’s character has a Saint Joseph-equse feel in which her morality comes from her reactions of shock and bewilderment at the cruelty surrounding her.
I can’t help but wonder if Josh Brolin’s character was somewhat based on Joel Egerton’s character in Black Mass. Matt Graver is also a sly scumbag who skirts around the truth with careful language and uses questionable methods in the name of a greater good.
Benecio del Toro’s Alejandro undergoes a transformation from sleepy-eyed agent to being downright scary, especially in the third/final act. The script tells us just enough about him while keeping his backstory in the shadows at the same time.
If you are an aspiring cinematographer, you need to watch this movie because there are some excellent shots of Juarez that enhance the look and feel of the grimey, Hell-on-Earth environment. Also, the expert cinematography by Roger Diakens does a great job at building tension. Action sequences begin with lingering camera shots and minimal background music, allowing the intensity to seep into your brain and make you paranoid about what’s coming next.
Between this film and Prisoners, it’s clear that director Denis Villeneuve is very interested in moral ambiguity. He likes to challenge the notion of “good guys vs. bad guys” because except for Kate and her partner Reggie, every other character is morally bankrupt. The film neither endorses nor criticizes moral relativism. It simply shows it for what it is and the impact it has. Just as Black Mass is a subtle portrayal of Satan, Sicario is a depiction of how moral relativism can poison a situation.
Finally, the ending–holy cow–the ending of this movie is amazing in the most quiet and subtle way. If you plan on seeing this movie, I want you to think about how gun violence shocks us here in America. You will need this mindset in order for the ending to have an impact on you.
The Misses/A Word of Caution
Emily Blunt’s character comes close to suffering from what I like to call “Window Character syndrome.” This is where the main character serves no other purpose than to be the observer of the story. We learn exposition through them, we are introduced to more interesting characters through them and the actual character is not very interesting. Kate Macer is treated as a window character for a good chunk of the film. She is either gathering information for us, the audience, or is kept in the dark by Matt and Alejandro. You can only have your main character say “I don’t know” so many times before it gets annoying. To the film’s credit, it is made clear that Kate does have a purpose for being there, which salvages her “window character syndrome.” However, it does become problematic when Kate is barely present in the film’s climactic showdown. At that point, it becomes the Alejandro show. Traditionally, the main character is the one who is most involved in a book/film’s climax.
WORD OF CAUTION: The opening scene has Kate Macer and her team raiding a house and making a disturbing discovery, which may not sit well with queasy moviegoers.
The Catholic Response
During the whole movie, I kept thinking of Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” Throughout the whole movie, Kate is constantly challenging Matt Graver and Alejandro, who dance around the truth by either mocking her or giving her vague answers. Matt convinces others to engage in questionable acts in the name of a greater good, a form of consequentialism, which our faith rejects since we are never to act in a morally compromising way so that good might come of it. The Church rejects the “ends justify the means” attitude of the world. I doubt it’s conicidence that Alejandro tells Kate, “We’re in the city of wolves now.” I said to myself, “Aha! Wolf in sheep’s clothing!”
I just realized that Sicario is a semi-comparative retelling of Saint Rita of Cascia. Both Kate and Rita are unintended witnesses to a brutality neither had previously imagined. Rita wanted to be a Augustianian nun, but was persuded by her family to marry Paolo Manchini. Kate wants to stay with Special Weapons and Tactics Team, but is persuaded by the higher-ups to join Matt Graver and company to capture the men responsible for the horror house in the film’s opening. Rita gets caught in the ongoing feud between the Manchinis (her in-laws) and the Chiqui family. Kate is caught in the crossfire of the battle between Matt’s task force and a notorious Mexican drug lord named Manuel Diaz. It seems that Matt and Alejandro are two personifications of the arrogant and shady Paolo Manchini. Matt is arrogant and rude to Kate/Rita, while Alejandro turns out to be ruthless and immoral. Kate and Rita act as the moral compass of their stories; Rita urges peace and forgiveness, while Kate challenges authority when justice is not being upheld. Also during Kate and Alejandro’s final scene together, Alejandro says to her, “You look like a little girl when you’re scared.” I bring this up because Saint Rita was 12 years old when she gave birth to her first child, making her a little girl.
Sicario was never meant to be a biography of Saint Rita, but it does embody the spirit of her story. It does chronicle the journey of a moral woman trapped in an impossible circumstance, which just so happens to be Rita’s patronage. Our cynical world may not recognize Sicario’s parallels to Rita’s saga, but lovers of Saint Rita will appreciate the film as an unintentional tribute to the patroness of the impossible.
Saint Rita of Cascia and Saint Faustina, pray for us.