Sicario Is the True Detective Season Two We Deserved
On more than one occasion during Sicario, an aerial shot of a landscape fills the screen. The scenery is, presumably, somewhere in the American Southwest or Mexican north—the border areas where the film’s drug wars rage. They’re stunning, often tension-building, shots. But imagine them on a smaller screen, and your reaction immediately becomes something like: “This is just like True Detective—but good.”
And it’s not just the HBO show’s drone shots that find analogue here. There are other similarities as well, the most obvious of which is the ensemble-driven plot. Sicario, which opens wide on Friday, follows a group of people from various government agencies—CIA, FBI—who form a coalition to investigate a nefarious drug cartel. On top of that, this task force hinges on the morality yin-yang of an upright agent (Emily Blunt’s Kate Macy, who is effectively Sicario’s version of TD’s Ani Bezzerides) and her ethically ambiguous counterpart (Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro, this tale’s Ray Velcoro).
But there’s something else, too. Outside of the good-guys-who-aren’t-always-good and bad-guys-who-aren’t-always-bad characterizations, there is also the allure of the very real problem of drug cartels and US-Mexico border tension. Although based on fictional events and people, it is—like the efforts to bring better transportation to California on Detective—at least kind of true.
More than anything, though, you’ll wish Sicario had been True Detective Season 2 because it won’t drive you crazy with try-hard BS that goes nowhere. It tells a down-and-dirty tale of law enforcement gone awry without the vaporous distractions of cults, hippie communes, and orgies—all the stuff on HBO’s show that was meant to convey mystery but ultimately conveyed stupefaction. Instead, Sicario uses the far more real (or at least believable) scenarios of cross-border drug smuggling and CIA-instigated cartel wars to create its far more compelling suspense.
But here’s the thing: In no way did Sicario director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) or screenwriter Taylor Sheridan aim to make True Detective. (And cinematographer Roger Deakins was more influenced by the photos of Alex Webb than anything on premium cable, if you’re wondering.) Their movie is a singular force of nature, the journey of one FBI agent (Blunt), who genuinely wants to bring justice to the cartels but realizes it’s impossible to do so while playing fair. (“Learn. That’s why you’re here,” Josh Brolin’s CIA agent Matt tells Kate when she begins to wonder about her place in this whole racket, signaling that her education will be about how messy things can get.)
And, frankly, Sicario is much better as a film. Thanks to its compact two-hour runtime, it never loosens its grip. Unlike True Detective, which indulged in unnecessarily long drives and frustrating red herrings—what did the crow’s head mean?! What did the fact that Bezzerides looked at women in their underwear on the internet have to do about her character?—Sicario takes one case to its gut-wrenching conclusion, and then lets you go home. (A quick aside about the only-girls-in-the-room: Critics have pointed out Kate’s lack of agency in Sicario, which is a valid criticism, but Blunt saves it with her steeled performance.)
So, no, Sicario should not have actually been the second season of HBO’s crime noir, but it’s hard not to wonder what this team of filmmakers would’ve done with eight hours (give or take) and the same cast and story. The tagline for True Detective this season was “We get the world we deserve”; maybe we deserved something more like Sicario. We’d say they should take on Season 3, but Villeneuve and Deakins at least have something bigger to worry about: the new Blade Runner. Hopefully that follow-up will land better than the second coming of True Detective.
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