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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — A deadly game of cat-and-mouse plays out along the U.S.-Mexico border in the ultraviolent thriller Sicario (Lionsgate). This all-too-realistic film follows the ongoing war against drugs and the machinations of rival cartels willing to do anything — no matter how depraved — to gain supremacy.

Sicario deals in harsh truths about greed, addiction, revenge and corruption. Unfortunately, although the movie is well-acted, its moral compass is skewed and its outlook excessively bleak. Caught in the crossfire of its Wild West-style shootouts, the audience is left to wonder just who the good guys are.

The picture’s title, at least, could hardly be more appropriate: In Mexico, a “sicario” is a hit man.

The action kicks off in Arizona where Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an idealistic FBI agent, joins a raid on a suspected drug den. Dozens of mutilated bodies are uncovered — one cartel’s gruesome warning to turncoats.

Anxious to hunt down and help eliminate the anonymous gangster responsible for this slaughter, Kate volunteers for a black-ops mission south of the Rio Grande. Its leader is Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a gleeful if enigmatic fellow agent whose stated objective is “to dramatically overreact.” Translation: C’mon, get trigger-happy.

Matt’s main collaborator is an even more mysterious figure, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Though he’s a former prosecutor from Colombia, it’s unclear whether Alejandro is currently friend or foe, ally or assassin.

As the operatives dig in, and Kate witnesses random rub-outs, abductions, and torture, her doubts grow. Alejandro, on the other hand, insists the normal rules don’t apply.

“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do,” he proclaims. “But in the end you will say, ‘Those guys were right.’ ”

Moral uncertainty haunts Sicario, as director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) raises the body count on both sides of the frontier.

The film contains implicitly endorsed revenge killing, other bloody violence, including torture, several disturbing images, some involving full male and female nudity, and pervasive profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

The Martian
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Though the compelling sci-fi epic The Martian (Fox) is an unusually long movie, what viewers of faith may cherish most about this masterful adventure is a single line of dialogue in the form of a three-word prayer. 

Brief as it is, this one utterance — made all the more eloquent by the apparently casual tone in which it’s pronounced — represents a ringing affirmation of belief in divine assistance.

Few have ever needed the aid of providence more than the character who delivers this line, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon). Because, by the time he offers his short plea to God, Mark is alone on the surface of Mars, more than 30 million miles away from home.

The film’s opening scenes recount the series of unexpected occurrences that led to Mark’s terrifying plight. The botanist on a NASA mission to the Red Planet — The Martian is set in a version of the near future where such journeys are more or less routine — Mark, like his colleagues, was forced to abandon his work on short notice due to the sudden arrival of a fierce windstorm that threatened to destroy their rocket.

As they all scrambled to depart, Mark was struck by flying debris and swept out of sight in the tempest, leaving his crewmates, led by conscientious Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), with no time to mount a rescue attempt. Back on Earth, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) delivered the bad news to the public, officially announcing Mark’s death.

Though Mark is, of course, alive — albeit wounded — his chances for long-term survival are bleak. He has only limited supplies of food, water and power — and no means of communicating with anyone.

As it charts Mark’s desperate struggle to turn his situation around, director Ridley Scott’s screen version of Andy Weir’s novel skillfully uses its protagonist’s dread-inspiring predicament to examine fundamental aspects of the human spirit: courage and ingenuity, the fear of isolation and the yearning for solidarity.

Along the way, screenwriter Drew Goddard’s script touches on religion only once more — and again just in passing. Yet the picture’s respectful, if incidental, treatment of the subject continues to draw power from its own understatement. The screenplay’s faith-affirming overtones also register as all the more pointed given the science-celebrating context which surrounds them — a setting in which such views might mistakenly be thought to be out of place.

Based on the fine quality of its values, at least some parents may consider The Martian acceptable for older teens — the elements of potential concern listed below notwithstanding.

The film contains some medical gore, a flash of rear nudity, scatological and other mature references, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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