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Film Review: Sicario

Updated on February 19, 2016


In 2015, Denis Villeneuve released Sicario, starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernandez, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, and Julio Cedillo. The film grossed $80.6 million at the box office and won the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor as well as the National Board of Review Spotlight Award for Outstanding Collaborative Vision and was placed on its list of Top Ten Films along with the New York Film Critics Online Top 10 Films list. It was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Sound Editing.


Kate Macer is an idealistic FBI SWAT agent enlisted by a government official to aid in a joint task force to bring down an anonymous drug lord. However, she soon learns that what she thought she understood about the war on drugs to be completely wrong.


An interesting film, Sicario falls heavily on the cynical side in its interpretation on the war on drugs. It depicts neither side being in the right. While Kate is initially idealistic that she is on the right side making a difference with the FBI, the film ends up subverting everything by the end. She sees that while drug lords like Fausto Alarcon kidnap, kill and mutilate people in both Mexico and the United States in order to keep his level of control and inspire fear, the CIA is just a slightly lighter shade of black with Matt and his team showing that they’re not above taking care of cartel members in public or employing torture in order to get their jobs done. By the end of the film, the CIA is then seen as being just as bad as the cartels with Matt telling Kate that their actions have done nothing but restore power to a different cartel and bluntly stating that the intended goal wasn’t to stop them, but to control them. It’s a notable story that shows how there is no bright light in a dark situation or cloud with a silver lining in life sometimes and that there are points where nothing will ever change in a bleak world. That’s all seen when Kate goes from her idealistic point of view to cynically realizing that the cycle will always roll on.

As for the characters, the film uses the above to really show that none of the characters are really all that different from each other. Take Matt, the CIA operative who initially recruited Kate. While he puts on a good front at the FBI office, albeit wearing sandals, he winds up being the catalyst for showing that the CIA isn’t in the business of bringing down the cartels and has no second thoughts about committing activities that are downright illegal in order to further those goals. What’s more is that he’s shown as simply using Kate and her position at the FBI to make it so it’s legal for the CIA to operate in the US. He also gets away with everything he does

There’s also Alejandro, who is a killer with little to no morals who was essentially unleashed upon Alarcon’s cartel. However, unlike Matt, he’s given a backstory that seems to show that he had at least some semblance of a reason to get involved in everything. The man used to be a lawyer until Alarcon murdered his wife and kids, causing Alejandro to pay evil unto evil and make sure that everyone responsible for his pain is dealt with and he start to resemble a protagonist at the climax when he’s exacting his revenge. Alejandro is a notable case of someone letting anger, hate and vengefulness consume them.

But even though Kate’s worldview is essentially shattered over the course of the film, she seems to be the film’s only truly good character. It’s shown that she wants to do the right thing and wants to take care of the cartels, but ultimately realizes she’s in a world where the only way a community like Juarez can hope to survive is to just accept cartel violence as the norm and is flat out forced to sign that the operation was completely successful. Yet while she’s the only truly good character, the film also shows that in this world, good can also mean naïve, such as when she decides to question the staff at a bank where a cartel mule was going to deposit money. She ends up having her face recorded and the cartel using the recording to have someone go after her.

5 stars for Sicario

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion


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