An FBI agent working at the Mexican border is given a chance to go after bigger fish by shadowy government forces.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin
Initial Review by Phil Crone
Much of the first act is spent setting up this world, giving the audience an understanding of the dire straits border towns are in. The proxy for the viewer is Kate, an FBI agent in the kidnap rescue division. Opening with a tactical mission for her team immediately gives us the impression that Kate is no pushover when she makes it into Juarez, which is where our story begins in earnest. Right from the opening aerial shot over serene El Paso & dilapidated Juarez, we know we’re dealing with two different worlds here. The sounds of Juarez as the task force drives through are littered with gunfire. Multiple bodies, decapitated, hang from a bridge. Yet, we see the townspeople go about their business in the meantime. This is commonplace, and that jarring juxtaposition of people playing games while the bullets fly is just another day in Juarez, or any other border town that has become a nexus for drug trafficking. That point is further driven home by the shootout on the bridge, which “won’t even make the papers in El Paso.” Kate and the viewer now know this is the war we are dealing with.
The shootout at the border tunnel brings Matt’s full plan to fruition. Matt isn’t looking to end the war on drugs – he’s looking to consolidate power. It’s a tactic we’ve seen used throughout history by various governments, understanding that while order may not be the optimal solution over peace, it is the best solution realistically. Kate, not surprisingly, reacts poorly to this. It’s their job to stop the bad guys, right? Well, bad news, the bad guys won already, and drugs are going nowhere. Kate and Matt are fighting different wars here, with Kate fighting to stop drugs and Matt fighting to stop the violence. After the trip through Juarez, it’s very difficult to not side with Matt and his crusade.
Matt’s conduit for consolidating power comes in the form of Alejandro, a man who works “for Mexico,” and by that, we mean a hitman for the cartel with the best chance at consolidating power, which actually makes him the title character of the movie. “Sicario” makes no illusions to Alejandro being a good guy though. He has no problem using Silvio, one of surely many people who have no choice but to be caught up in the drug war and seen as nothing but pawns, and subsequently disposing of him once he’s outlived his usefulness. We then get a very well-made scene of Alejandro invading druglord Fausto’s compound and serving a little bit of vengeance in his own right. Alejandro’s path of destruction only underlines what we already know: this is a war where victory won’t be glorious. Innocent people will die. However, Matt is choosing the few – namely, Silvio and Fausto’s family – over the many – seemingly the entire city of Juarez.
The final scene between Kate & Alejandro is a great final face-off of the ideological differences here. As Kate stares down Alejandro from the balcony, she’s making that decision once again – the small victory over the bad guy, or the chance at order over peace. Kate, ultimately, chooses order. And as the final scene of Silvio’s child and now widow take part in a soccer game with gunfire echoing in the background, who can say Kate didn’t choose right.
“Sicario” is a damn-near masterpiece of revelation into the war on drugs taking place to our south. It’s a war that we’ve been fighting ever since Nancy Reagan asked us to “Just Say No.” Appealing to the people has not worked. Arrests have not worked. Tightening up the border hasn’t worked. Sometimes, redefining the objective of “victory” is the best outcome we can hope for. That’s Matt’s philosophy, and given the carnage in Juarez & in the border tunnel, it just might be Kate’s philosophy now too.
+ Excellent performances from Blunt, Brolin, & Del Toro
+ Directing is spot-on, putting the horrors of Juarez front-and-center as well as creating tense action sequences
+ “Takes a bold stance” regarding a situation that isn’t easy to solve.