After the Roman siege of Jerusalem around 70 A.D., a vicious splinter sect of Jewish assassins dedicated themselves to a cloak-and-dagger path of murder and subterfuge to expel the Roman occupancy. These insurrectionists became feared for their brazen, mid-day assaults on Roman officers and sympathizers in the public, and they were eventually branded sicarii after the distinctive short daggers they hid in their cloaks. So dreadful were the sicarii that the Latin word sicarius would eventually be adopted to describe ruthless killers for hire throughout Central and South America. As it turns out, the word sicario is even relevant to metalheads.
This weekend, my wife and I finally got a chance to watch Denis Villeneuve’s stunning crime thriller Sicario. The film presents a shocking, psychologically heavy depiction of the American war on drugs and the wholesale destruction of life, family, and character it creates. Emily Blunt plays a tough, by-the-book FBI agent caught up in a twisting plot of murder and intrigue. As her character, agent Kate Mancer, becomes further entwined in DOD consultants Matt Graver’s (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick’s (Benicio del Toro) tangled web of deceit and violence, the viewer is consistently left to wonder if the ends justify the means. Does violence beget violence? Is justice alone sufficient to defeat barbarism, or does vengeance leaves us as dead on the inside as those we avenge?
Sicario is an exercise in slow-burning tension. Though there’s plenty of action, these moments of violence and horror are always carefully juxtaposed against quiet unease. Villeneuve is just as content to barrage you with rapid-fire scenes of death and murder as he is to allow your imagination to fill in the blanks as characters are stabbed and brutalized just off-screen. The end result is a precarious balance on a razor blade that demands your attention and emotional endurance. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s excellent score only serves to accentuate the high-stakes drama and pointed guile of the film, with quiet moments of atmosphere yielding to taut cello lines and staccato eruptions of bass and brass as you are pulled ever deeper into Conrad’s modern heart of darkness. Even if you haven’t seen this film, I highly suggest you check out the critically acclaimed score.
As I often do after watching a new film, I took to Wikipedia to see if I could learn more about the titular sicario. Aside from the history lesson I provided you in the introduction, I also discovered that Chilean thrashers Criminal released a bludgeoning album also called Sicario in 2005. Does the record hold up to the cunning and stealthy ruthlessness of some of history’s first assassins and Villeneuve’s sharp, brooding thriller?
Truthfully, not really. Although the band’s 1997 sophomore release Dead Soul is considered by many a classic, the thrashers’ fifth release is a bit of a raucous bull in a china shop, more sound and noise than wit and sabotage. Yes, the songs on the album are performed with able professionalism. Hollow-point riffs and napalm solos, such as those in “Sicario” and “Preacher of Hate,” perfectly accentuate the machine gun drums, but too often do the songs delve into latter-day Sepultura-esque grooves and Latin-style aggro chugs. The music never becomes bad or even boring, and Anton Reisenegger’s Teutonic thrash-styled rasps are quite often a high point that add a layer of dire intensity to the mix, but the entire effort falls somewhat short of the imposing shadow cast by its historical namesake. Thrash, at its best, can rise to dizzying heights of secrecy or plumb the depths of obfuscating shadow. Sicario is good but never great, eschewing black ops precision for blunt force trauma. If you have to choose anything to listen to in this post, I’d suggest Jóhann Jóhannsson’s original soundtrack. Still, if you like modern thrash in the vein of Dew Scented or Evile, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Sicario from the little-known Chilean masters in Criminal.