Conversations About Movies: Sicario (with James Keeler Rollins)

Sicario was a pretty fantastic movie. While it is not for the faint of heart, there is quite a bit that this movie has to offer in regards to acting, cinematography, and story. I am a little surprised that it did not receive very many Oscar nominations, but to be honest, even if it did receive more nominations, I don’t think it would have ultimately won any.

I had the opportunity to talk about Sicario with one of my closest friends and fellow movie lover, Jame Keeler Rollins. He sent me his thoughts on the film, I looked through it, and we talked about them in depth for a pretty decent period of time. We actually disagreed about a couple of things. If you want to read our thoughts, here they are:


(Spoiler warning: go see the movie before reading this, or don’t if you don’t mind spoilers)


Steve J Donahue: So I read your review on Sicario, and I found it intriguing. There’s some things I agreed with and some things I had a different point of view on. One thing I do want to know first is who do you think pulled the best performance in this movie?


James Keeler Rollins: Even though I named other actors more in my review, I actually think Josh Brolin had the best performance in the movie. Often times we see/ hear him in a gruff, grumpy role, but here he is mostly chill and smiling, which is actually off putting in this storyline. It adds to the tension and mystery because he is shady, manipulative, and you cannot trust everything he says. The few moments when he does get gruff are surprising and engaging. Compare that to Benicio del Toro, the strong silent type which he has played before. Or Emily Blunt who does a lot of staring and thinking (and some action), which we have seen before and not enough to convince me she’s best.


Steve: For me, Josh Brolin’s character was more unique than previous roles (he’s definitely got a fantastic character palate), but my favorite role was Benicio Del Toro‘s. Even though the previews seem to prop up Emily Blunt as the lead character in this story, I think Del Toro’s character is the ultimate focus. At the very least, he was the character I empathized with the most.


James: I would say Emily Blunt’s story remains the main focus throughout, but Del Toro’s secret revelations kind of steals the spotlight near the end. I can see empathizing with his character most based on his character’s history though. Honestly, if they had given Daniel Kaluuya more to do, I’d almost say him [as my favorite character].


Steve: Really? You think Daniel Kaluuya was that exceptional of a performance? I mean, I think he played his part well, but he wasn’t exceptional. What makes him one of your favorites?


James: I find his loyalty to Emily Blunt intriguing. He’s got a past which impacts the way he engages people in the present, like when he stands up to Brolin and Del Toro for answers. Also, his regret when Shane (Walking Dead reference) attacks Blunt seems genuine, though I wish more was done with it.


Steve: Do you think his character’s loyalty to Emily Blunt’s character was out of military obligation, or do you think there was something different? Something more?


James: Perhaps his loyalty could stem from his military training which translates into their work relationship as SWAT officers. I do think it is a genuine friendship where he cares about her well being without any romantic feelings (demonstrated by their time at the bar).


Steve: Yeah, I didn’t think the there was necessarily any romantic feelings between Blunt’s and Kaluuya’s characters either. I am intrigued at how much you enjoyed his character though, as I just paid more attention to Del Toro, Brolin, and Blunt more.

So what did you think of the music? While the music isn’t necessarily ground braking, I thought it really did a fantastic job of setting the tone of this movie.


James: Yes, the music was a key component of the movie and very enjoyable. It adds tension to many moments, especially when things are quiet and action is about to happen. The music was not intrusive in those quieter moments, but rather it reinforced the suspense the audience is supposed to feel.


Steve: Agreed. There was a well-established ominous tone that the soundtrack set up, and I thought it was really well done.


James: What are your thoughts on my statements about the movie reminding me of Call of Duty and No Country for Old Men? Are there moments in the movie that made you think of other movies or stories?


Steve: Not really. I haven’t played Call of Duty since COD 2: Big Red One. But if you’re talking about the scene close to the end with Del Toro, Blunt, and company going through the desert at night with the night-vision equipment, I can see where your coming from. I can also see what you mean that it has a feel to No Country for Old Men. However, aside from both having Josh Brolin, and both being relatively depressing in tone, I don’t really see too many similarities.

I really tend to try to isolate how I feel about certain movies in comparison to other movies unless we’re talking sequels and reboots. However, even then, like for instance with my unpopular opinion about The Force Awakens, I still try to give every movie its own platform. Consequently, Sicario really didn’t strike me as being too similar to any movie.


James: My main connections between Sicario and Call of Duty and No Country for Old Men were noted in my review (which you can probably add to your post somewhere in this section of the conversation). When it comes to similarities to other movies, I was kind of going more for what is an idea, character, or trait that has become cliche recently that I’ve seen in main other stories (ex. you reference the news clip exposition opening in your Snowpiercer review). My main cliche or moment I found was the villain encounter at the end.

Is there one moment in this movie that really stands out to you in your memory?


Steve: The moment for me was in the finale, during the final scene with Blunt and Del Toro. I think it’s a fine scene that shows just how vicious Del Toro is, and it reveals whether or not Blunt will change because of this encounter. My interpretation is that she doesn’t. In the moment of truth, when Blunt aims the weapon at Del Toro as he’s leaving, and he stops to see if she actually goes through with killing him, she instead decides to let him go. Despite the hell she was put through, and the stuff they force her to do, she decides to not bypass her code and lets him go. This is quite unlike the other lead characters who frequently bypass the law to obtain “justice”.


James: I liked that act of mercy too, but I also wondered why she gave in and signed the document as well. I almost anticipated her saying no because the whole entire movie she was against his system of law & order, but in the end she was not willing to die for her ethical code of justice supported by regular U.S. laws. The signature took some power away from her, the act of mercy gave some back to her.


Steve: Hmm… that’s a fair point. I guess in a matter of life or death, she chose to break the code. I don’t really blame her though. In real life, it’s a pretty surreal, terrifying experience to have a loaded gun pointed at you. I don’t really know if it’s reason enough to say that she broke her code.


James: I think my point was for the majority of the movie she thought she was right, but in the end she was not convicted enough in her code to die for it, which means there was some hesitation in her that made her second guess her code.


Steve: Isn’t it a fair point to say that there is a level a traumatization that happens though? The woman is lied to constantly, strangled by a man she thought she knew who was really tied to the cartel, she’s forced to sit back and watch Del Toro and Brolin constantly undermine her, and now she’s got a gun pressed up against her face. I really feel like the point of contention towards whether or not she commits to the change is whether or not she kills Del Toro.


James: Yes, that’s fair that trauma can be involved as long as everything in the movie points toward her decision to sign being the most logical point, and maybe I need to watch through again to catch everything leading up to that moment. The gun moment is the more important moment. (minor note, I wouldn’t say even she thought she had any understanding about the guy from the bar other than she just met him in the bar and she wanted to go home with him). One of the scenes that sticks out to me is their drive thru Juarez, especially when they go past the hanging corpses. I think not only does this give the moment a sense of suspense and danger, but also increases the realism of the story, like this kind of stuff is happening in real life and they are just photocopying real life onto the screen.


Steve: Yeah that scene was pretty screwed up (well, honestly, when I saw that Benicio Del Toro was in the movie, I had a feeling it would be a screwed up movie anyway). I think a common theme in this movie is that the battle between the drug kingpins and the law officials is drastically affecting everyone’s lives.

… Actually, there was a theory I wanted to run by you about this movie if that’s okay.


James: Fire away


Steve: So I really think this movie plays against the trope of the protagonists being likable, and the villains being sleazy-looking dirt bags. I remember you saying in your review that it took away from some of the mystery when they revealed the drug kingpin, but I think that was running with the common theme. Aside from Emily Blunt’s character (and I guess Daniel Kaluuya too), every single “good guy” is a dirt bag. Josh Brolin is a slimy freelancer with a terrible sense of style and an even more terrible sense of justice. Benicio Del Toro is a finely dressed man who beats the crap out of people to interrogate them, and in general is a pretty scary guy. Even some of the side characters (like Jeffrey Donovan for instance, who has a creeper mustache and some terrible STD’s) are pretty sleazy and nearly unlikable. On the flip side, one of the cops helping the Mexican cartel is a clean-shaven family man who is good to his kid. When we finally realize who the drug kingpin is, we realize he’s a decent looking family man with a normal looking wife and children. This whole bad-guys-look-like-good-guys and good-guys-look-like-bad-guys plays into overlying theme that Emily Blunt is starting to realize: You can’t really tell WHO the bad guys are. Everyone seems to be terrible people.

Would you agree?


James: My takeaway is slightly different. Like I said in the review, the movie was presenting a problem (Mexico’s drug cartel problem) and offering an answer. That answer in this case happened to be that the “good guys” bent the rules and played dirty just like the “bad guys” in order to end the bad guy’s reign of terror.I agree it was hard to tell who is good and bad in this case, but I think that is because both the problem and the solution are complicated. We’ve seen bad guys who dress well and have normal looking families before just like we’ve seen heroes or anti-heroes who fight unethically in order to win. The cop Silvio in this instance may be good family man who chooses to help the cartel because he think it is for the best for his family (we do not know and that’s why I wanted more of him). I do not think it’s necessarily about the persons/ characters being bad or good per se, but it’s more about what they represent if that makes sense.


Steve: I’m not saying that Silvio’s family-man persona excuses him as a bad guy. Both Silvio and the kingpin are both terrible people, but they’re never developed as terrible people; usually in movies, the antagonists are dressed up in an unlikable way that makes them look like terrible people, whereas the protagonists (except for antiheroes, sure) normally look like likable people. Instead, Brolin and Del Toro look like sleazy, unlikable people, whereas Silvio and the kingpin seemed like normal guys you’d want to have conversations with.


James: Yeah, but Silvio may not be a bad guy he may just be a good guy making bad choices.

And also I think Brolin and Del Toro did look normal likeable people when we first meet them, it’s their actions that cause us to question their goodness, which is maybe why the bad guys don’t appear like normal villains, because they’re not onscreen long enough for us to judge their actions.


Steve: Exactly. I feel like the choice was made to not show these scenes, but instead focus on the lawlessness of Brolin and Del Toro. Whenever Silvio does appear on screen, aside from the final act when he’s smuggling drugs, it is to push aside the original plot to show him being a family man. I feel like that reinforces my point that they tried to make the bad guys look more human.

And really? I feel like from the start, the clothing choices they made for Josh Brolin’s character intentionally made him look like the douche bag. Del Toro’s character looks alright, but soon as he becomes mostly snide and aloof to Emily Blunt, and then starts doing some really sketchy things (and considering Del Toro naturally looks like a shady character anyway; sorry, but he does).


James: I’d say Silvio and his family could have been just more of a representation of people in Mexico who have to live and deal with this environment. Especially if you connect the very final scene with all of the other moments at Silvio’s home.

Also flip flops and pants make anyone look like a tool.

And as you pointed out, it’s only after Del Toro’s actions that we understand he is a jerk and a shady character. So I’m halfway agreeing with your points and theory, but obviously my viewing had different takeaways.


Steve: I gotcha. Well an element to a good movie is that it can have different takeaways.


James: Any other questions to pose at the moment?


Steve: No, I don’t really have many more points to make. That was the biggest point, and I was saving it for last.


James: Okay, sweet. Mesa enjoying the debate but mesa also sleepy.


Steve: Well, we can wrap it up! I’d like to get this onto a blog post tonight anyway.


James: I think I’m good on the topic overall, between my review and the discussion, if you feel like it’s enough for your blog.


Steve: So, final question: On an out of 10 scale, what would you give this movie? Would you like to go first, or would you want to hear my rating first?


James: You first dude.


Steve: After letting this movie sit for a while, I would give it an 8 out of 10. It is above exceptional, the music is great, and I can’t think of a single bad performance in this movie. It also strikes a very ominous emotional tone.


James: I also match you 8/10.


Steve: Cool. Anything else to add?


James: I’m surprised you thought a scene from Sicario was screwed up and at the same time heavily endorse Snowpiercer, a whole movie with screwed up scenes hahahahaha


Steve: Haha, both are great movies! Both are at relatively similar qualities of film and acting. I just like Snowpiercer better as a movie and as a subject.


James: Just a little tease to leave ya. Good night dude. Thanks for the movie talk. This was fun. Let’s do it again sometime!


Steve: Goodnight!


(For those who are interested in James’ full review and did not find the link to it in our conversation, here is a quick link to it.)