Sicario: The Anti-Feminist Film

 

I recently watched the new film Sicario, starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, and directed by Denis Villeneuve. And while the film was not as good as I had hoped it would be, I was however pleasantly surprised by the overt anti-feminist overtones that it presented. Ironically, this film is being hailed as some sort of feminist marvel of women’s empowerment and “ass-kicking grrrrrrrrrl power” by the top billed lead actress Emily Blunt. Despite the fact that what is actually displayed on screen plays far more like a good old-fashioned masculine tough guy crime-drama as opposed to some vapid feminist propaganda film.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that this film is the perfect anti-feminist film. The film realistically depicts (for a movie) tough, brutal men—be it special-forces operators, CIA spooks, or assassins—conducting their martial business with merciless efficiency, while the lead female character—played by Blunt—is depicted as being naive, weak, and incompetent and in way over her head. Emily Blunt’s character spends practically the entire 121 minute run time looking like a terrified deer in headlights, while the brutality and realities of war unfold around her. Not to mention, for a so-called protagonist, she turns out to be completely insignificant and powerless to influence the events surrounding her, and is really nothing more than an observer to the plot. More so, in every instance in the film where Blunt tries to stand up, act tough, and exert influence, she is quickly and unsubtly put back in her place by various male characters.

One could say that this film is the polar opposite to this year’s earlier feminist tripe film Mad Max Fury Road. In that film, the titular tough guy male character, Mad Max, played second fiddle to his “ass-kicking grrrrl power” female sidekick. Contrast that with Sicario, in which Emily Blunt’s female protagonist spends practically the entire film being repeatedly instructed, scolded, put in her place, or rescued by far more competent and capable men.

This film should, and most likely will, outrage feminists due to its true-to-life depiction and message that the savage business of war is best left to far more capable men. Along with the message that, in reality, women are just simply not the same as men, despite what the feminists may hope and disingenuously preach. Although I am quite certain that many oblivious feminists will completely miss this obvious point, and will therefore celebrate this film solely because it has a “strong” “ass-kicking” female lead protagonist.

Of course nothing could be further from the truth. In Sicario, Emily Blunt’s “heroic” female lead is anything but that. As we will soon see.

Warning, Spoiler Alert! The Rest Of The Review Contains Spoilers.

The plot of the film is predominantly about a US federal black-ops team that is operating along the Mexican border in an effort to quell the rising cross-border brutal violence of Mexico’s raging drug war. The team, comprised of special-forces operators, federal agents, CIA spooks, and a mysterious Mexican hit man, is operating in the shadows and beyond the scope of law and official protocol. The team is also operating under the philosophy of “by any means necessary”, and is therefore prone to extreme measures. Emily Blunt, the lead female protagonist, plays an FBI SWAT officer currently assigned to the FBI hostage rescue team who is recruited to join this black-ops team.

The movie begins with Blunt and her FBI SWAT team conducting a raid on a drug cartel house somewhere in Arizona near the border. During the raid, we watch as Blunt guns down a shotgun wielding thug, giving us the initial impression that her character is going to be some kind of “badass” female protagonist. However, her raid is ultimately a failure because the hostages are not located, two officers are killed, and instead the SWAT team uncovers a disturbing house of horrors filled with the corpses of the latest victims of the cartel. We then see Blunt’s frustration and disillusionment with the progress that the FBI is making in combating the vicious drug cartels.

Following the failed raid, Blunt’s superiors hold a meeting with members of the black-ops team, including Josh Brolin’s CIA spook character. Due to her extensive experience as a SWAT officer, Blunt’s superiors recommend her as an addition to the team. This glowing recommendation by her superiors once again gives us the impression that Blunt’s protagonist is going to a strong and competent character, and will serve as an asset to the team. Of course, as the film plays out, we see that nothing could be further from the truth. Blunt is then called into the meeting by her superiors, and she is given a choice whether or not she wishes to join this elite black-ops team and partake in their unorthodox methods, in order to try and actually make a difference in the drug war. She of course idealistically chooses yes, giving us the impression that her character knows full well what she is getting herself into.

Blunt then travels to a military base along the southern border to meet up with her new team for her first mission. There, during the mission briefing, she is introduced to the rest of the team, an experienced unit of tough, bearded, veteran special operators and federal agents. This team depicted on film could actually pass for a real life team of operators, for the typical Hollywood PC token “tough chick” character is conspicuously absent. With the exception of the new addition of Blunt’s protagonist to the team, there is otherwise not a drop of politically correct estrogen in the mix.

To Blunt’s naïve shock however, the team’s latest mission will consist of traveling across the border into Juarez, Mexico, in order to retrieve and transport a high level cartel prisoner back to the US. The shock of Blunt’s character when she learns that they will be operating “under the radar” inside of Mexico is quite frankly ridiculous, and is the first of many instances where her character proves that she is completely in over her head, and is in no way cut out for this kind of masculine work. Blunt’s female protagonist willingly volunteered to join this unorthodox black-ops unit, yet then acts completely surprised and outraged to learn that the team will be operating “under the radar” and outside of the scope of traditional rules.

During the mission, while the team convoy is traveling through war torn Juarez, they pass alongside a bridge where several decapitated bodies have been hung, victims of the cartel’s brutality. Blunt’s character, a supposedly hardened veteran FBI agent, is visibly upset by this sight. Yet again illustrating that she is completely out of her element on this team.

The team then successfully picks up the high level prisoner, and begins the trip back to the US border crossing. As the convoy makes its way back to the US, the veteran male operators are anticipating an ambush by cartel soldiers attempting to free the high level prisoner, and as such they are on high alert. The men are actively calling out the suspicious vehicles that are tailing the convoy and are also scanning the rooftops of buildings for threats, all while Blunt’s character stares wide eyed and terrified at the thought of the inevitable ambush to come. During this time, she proves to be of absolutely no use to the safety of the convoy.

The convoy then becomes boxed in and stuck in traffic while waiting at the border crossing, still stuck on the Mexican side. The veteran operators know that this is where the ambush will occur, as the convoy is most vulnerable. The operators then begin calling out over the radio the vehicles around them which contain the cartel soldiers. During this time, Blunt’s character continues to be absolutely useless, while her male counterparts prepare to engage the enemy vehicles. Blunt, petrified with fear, actually has to be reminded by Brolin’s character to draw her weapon in preparation for the ambush.

The operators then exit the convoy SUVs to engage the cartel soldiers in the cars around them, while Blunt remains in the truck. She is yelled at to exit the vehicle by Brolin’s character, but she refuses and remains in the truck. A gunfight then ensues with the cartel soldiers, with the operators engaging and quickly neutralizing the cartel threats. While still sitting in the truck, Blunt’s character is allowed a kill by the film director, as she happens to see a gunman sneaking up behind her through the rearview mirror. All in all however, Blunt’s character proves to be essentially useless during this entire mission and firefight.

To make matters worse, she then later becomes outraged that her team illegally engaged the cartel soldiers in Mexican territory while surrounded by civilian non-combatants. Despite the fact that the cartel men were about to attack their convoy. Proving, once again, that her character has absolutely no business in this business.

Following the successful mission, the outraged Blunt confronts Brolin’s character about the team’s unorthodox methods, making one question again why she even knowingly volunteered for such a team in the first place. Brolin is then forced to explain to the naïve Blunt that the “by the book” methods of combating the drug cartels have not had any affect, and that it is the team’s job to shake things up a little. Blunt’s character seems to accept this answer, and agrees to stay on the team.

Next, the team stakes out a known drug cartel bank on the US side of the border, in order to apprehend a courier depositing laundered cartel money into the bank. The team then successfully takes down the courier, while Blunt’s character sits uselessly in the surveillance van. The team is able to obtain a backpack full of evidence from the courier. Blunt then wants to use this newfound evidence to build a legitimate criminal case against the cartel, but Brolin’s character warns against this. He tells her that the all of the legitimate criminal cases have not made a difference in ending the violence thus far. He then tells Blunt not to enter the bank, because the team is working towards a bigger goal. Against his orders not to enter the bank, Blunt insubordinately and recklessly enters the bank anyway to obtain the cartel bank account numbers, potentially damaging all that her team is working towards. Despite knowing full well that this bank is a cartel front, Blunt enters the bank and is caught on the bank’s surveillance cameras, identifying her to the cartel.

Later that night, Blunt and her partner go out to a bar. There she meets a local cop, who she proceeds to bring home to her apartment. As she and her new beau are getting ready to screw on the couch, she observes a suspicious item on him indicating that he is working for the cartel. She makes an effort to get up and grab her gun, but the petite Blunt is soundly, brutally, and realistically beaten and choked by the much larger, more muscular, stronger man.

The film very easily could have entered into feminist fairy tale land here, by showing the tiny Blunt effortlessly dispatching her male assailant in a ridiculous “you go grrrrl” ass-kicking fashion. But refreshingly, the film chose to remain realistic and Blunt’s character never stands a chance against the much larger, stronger man. The cartel assassin almost manages to kill the helpless Blunt, but she is rescued at the last minute by her mysterious teammate, played by Benicio Del Toro. Yes, our strong female protagonist had to be rescued by a masculine, patriarchal tough guy. We then learn that because Blunt incompetently screwed up and entered the bank, her team decided to use her as bait to expose the dirty local cops who were working for the cartel.

The team then learns the location of a secret tunnel complex in the desert, which crosses underneath the border and leads to a secret cartel drug warehouse on the Mexican side. The team then plans a night raid on the tunnel as a diversion, so the mysterious Del Toro character can infiltrate the drug warehouse on the other side. As the team prepares to launch this nighttime raid into the tunnel, the special forces team leader condescendingly tells Blunt to “keep her rifle on safe, stay in the back, and don’t shoot any of my men”. Blunt’s character, a supposed veteran FBI SWAT officer, takes this mocking without any opposition and without ever standing up for herself.

The team then raids the tunnel, and once again we see the male operators skillfully and efficiently neutralizing the cartel members protecting the tunnel, while Blunts character wanders aimlessly through the tunnel behind them. At one point, she is even unsuspectingly shot at and her rifle becomes damaged and useless. Rather than stay with her team, the utterly incompetent Blunt then manages to get separated from her unit, and proceeds to get lost in the tunnel system.

Blunt then manages to accidentally wander into the drug warehouse on the Mexican side, where she observes her teammate, the mysterious Del Toro character, using some rather unscrupulous methods in order to complete his mission. She then foolishly challenges Del Toro with her handgun, but he quickly shoots her in her body armor, temporarily incapacitating her. Once again, Blunt’s female protagonist has her ass soundly handed to her by a male counterpart. Del Toro then leaves the warehouse into Mexico, in order to continue on with his mission. Which, it turns out, to be the main focus of the rest of the plot.

Blunt then recovers from the disabling gunshots into her armor, and manages to return to the US side of the tunnel where she meets up with the rest of her team. There, she furiously confronts and attacks Brolin’s character for the team’s use of illegal tactics. She attempts to physically attack Brolin, but, yet again, the tiny Blunt is soundly roughed up and subdued by a larger, stronger man.

We then learn that Brolin’s character is a CIA agent working to restore some stability in the drug wars by establishing a single cartel as a monopoly and hegemony of power. We also then learn that Del Toro’s character is a former Mexican prosecutor whose family was brutally murdered by the cartel, thus causing him to become a hitman for a rival cartel who is working with the CIA. By the team successfully sneaking Del Toro into the tunnel, he is then able to complete the rest of his mission of assassinating the cartel leader who murdered his family.

The film then ends with Brolin telling Blunt that her entire purpose on the team was merely to act as a legal and jurisdictional technicality, by having an FBI agent embedded with them. Fittingly, as useless as Blunt’s character turned out to be on the team, her entire reason for even being on the team in the first place was equally useless. Simply put, the female protagonist in this film was completely irrelevant to the overall events of the plot.

In the final scene, Del Toro then confronts Blunt in her apartment, where he forces her to sign some documents indicating that the team operated within the law and within official policy. She refuses to sign, and Del Toro proceeds to shove his pistol under her chin, telling her that to not do so would be “suicide”. Blunt relents, and signs the paper. As Del Toro is leaving her apartment, walking through the parking lot, Blunt steps out onto her balcony and confronts him at gunpoint, threatening to shoot him while he is standing in the parking lot. Del Toro calmly turns and looks up at Blunt on the balcony, staring coldly into her. Blunt then lowers her weapon, and Del Toro walks off into the distance.

Conclusion

This film, while not a masterpiece by any means, is one of the best recent anti-feminist films that I can recall. I am not sure if this was the intent of the film and the screenplay, but the story and events that unfold onscreen unambiguously present an anti-feminist message. The film is certainly not the “ass-kicking” female protagonist film that it is being marketed as.

From the very start of the film, the female protagonist is repeatedly shown to be completely in over her head. As part of a team of elite male warriors, she simply cannot measure up. Scene after scene depicts her character as dangerously naïve and idealistic, yet also as utterly incompetent, insubordinate, and weak.

For a lead character and protagonist, Blunt’s character is totally ineffective and powerless to influence any of the events unfolding around her, and she goes through the entire film basically as an inside observer. Scene after scene depicts Blunt’s character staring off wide eyed and scared, while the men around her successfully take care of business. In every instance where her character tries to stand up and act tough, she is either put back in her place or rescued by a man. In fact, by the end of the film, we as an audience learn that her character’s entire involvement in the plot was completely useless and merely a technicality.

In this modern world of emasculation and androgyny, it was refreshing to watch a film for once that much more realistically depicted the differences between men and women. The female protagonist, portrayed by Emily Blunt in this film, is not some utterly unrealistic to the point of absurdity badass tough chick who can effortlessly hold her own against a bunch of men. Rather, she is a much more realistically—whether intentionally or unintentionally—depicted fragile, soft, feminine woman who is in way over her head in the unforgiving world of masculine wartime violence.

Now I am not saying that all women are weak, not by a long shot. But this film realistically illustrates that some things in this world are best left to the rough men. Overall, it was a decent film, but one that will be remembered far more for its realistic—i.e. anti-feminist—overtones.

 

© 2015 By AB Frank, All Rights Reserved

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