Mexico is a hotbed of corruption, gangs, murder, and drugs. Illegal street drugs and the market for them are what attracts and fuels those that have no conscience. And the United States’ ineffective war on drugs still rages on after 44 years. The movie Sicario (meaning “hitman”) is about those on the front lines and those between the lines of this battle.
The movie starts out with a raid on a house in Arizona. Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent in a tactical position on the raid and stumbles across something that makes the situation much bigger than originally thought. Being a seasoned tactical specialist, she is recruited onto a different team headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) that is going after a top drug lord in Mexico. Graver and a shadowy Mexican agent (Benicio Del Toro) sell this to her by convincing her that she is basically wasting her career on cutting down weeds while the root is untouched.
But, of course, the situation is far more complicated than that.
Macer is, ethically, an idealistic “lawful good” character. Her idealism, however, is deeply challenged and her ethical character proves to be a barrier in itself when confronting those that are lawfully evil. She can’t bring herself to break the law to stop them, and they can’t leave the shield of the law in order to achieve their own goals and safe haven. The law, in this case, creates a foundation of a status quo. The people within the system can change, often through violent means, but the system itself is solid, although morally flawed. And the two different systems of law and societies of the United States and Mexico make the waters even murkier.
Macer can see a darkness and is often tempted to drop it and leave this new force to go back to what she knows. But, she is constantly drawn back, probably because of the possibility of taking down the boss instead of the cartel’s constantly replaced minions in the desert of Arizona. Still, the further she goes, the more confusing and unclear the right course of action is.
Emily Blunt is fantastic in this role. She’s very believable and sympathetic. You see the brutality she faces chipping away at her. This adds suspense to the many slow-paced and tense scenes where it’s a matter of life and death. The movie doesn’t feel safe in that you know that the hero will make it out of whatever situation they are in. It feels real and as if anything could happen. Josh Brolin is also fantastic. He plays his character as someone that’s been through that job for a long time and has seen it all. Little can phase him. Del Toro is very intimidating and plays a multi-leveled, but still shadowy, character. He is haunted by some horrors he was forced to endure, and this is seemingly his sole motivation.
And, very importantly, the characters are brave, but human all the same.
One scene, about a quarter of the way into the movie, has the team going into past the border into Mexico. They are in a convoy of SUVs escorted by trucks and Humvees loaded with mounted machine guns. The music, the cinematography following different aspects of the convoy, and Blunt’s character realizing the gravity of the situation makes this extremely effective with suspense. This same effectiveness is repeated often in many scenes thereafter.
The smallest sounds and the movie’s score are made extra effective if you see it in a higher-end theater with the special big screen and the new Dolby Atmos sound system. It really helps immerse the viewer into the world of the movie.
There are a lot of interesting visuals in the movie. Some show the brutality of the Mexican cartels and some of them simply show the perspective of soldiers’ thermal vision, which was really cool and done well for the particular scene.
I highly recommend Sicario. It’s a slower paced, but ultimately rewarding and thoughtful movie that delves into corruption and muddied morality. Both the movie and the message is ultimately not about drugs; they are a means to an end. It’s about morally bankrupt, but smart, people’s lust for power at any cost and their exploiting of a system.