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Sicario: A Drug War Fighter

Updated on October 17, 2015

Illegal drugs are a big and nasty business, and both the suppliers and law enforcement know that. In the movie Sicario, Arizona FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) wants to get some answers regarding a drug raid and hostage situation that was far from routine. As they secure the scene, Macer's partner, Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) notices something in a hole behind some drywall. He and Macer discover three bodies of people who'd been executed. An exhaustive search of the house discovers dozens more killed the same way. In trying to learn the contents of a cellar, two officers die when the cellar turns out to be rigged with explosives. Macer wants to get to whoever is responsible for all of the deaths, and so does the Department Of Defense. A DOD team led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) meets with Macer's superior, Dave Jennings (Victor Garber), for an operation where they think Macer's involvement would be ideal.

This means Macer will be working from El Paso with Graver's DOD team, other law enforcement officials, and other specially trained personnel. Among those who work with Graver is a man called Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro), a lawyer turned adviser. He knows the situation, and wants to disrupt the operations of the man responsible. This means Macer and the others have to make their way to a prison in Juarez and take a Mexican prisoner into US custody with the help of friendly Federales. The prisoner helps the team identify the hideout of Manuel Diaz (Bernardo Saracino), a drug cartel leader based in Arizona. When Kate and the team return to Arizona, they detain and question some illegal immigrants. With Reggie's help, they learn Diaz has constructed tunnels to smuggle drugs across the border. The DOD team works with Diaz's bank to freeze his assets to force Diaz to be called to Mexico to face his boss, Fausto Alcaron (Julio Cedillo). The questions of legality still race through Kate's mind as the pieces of the plan fall together.

The title Sicario gets its explanation in the opening moments of this interesting film from French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. As the war on drugs grows longer, so have the stakes. Both sides have become more entrenched, sophisticated, and violent in their efforts. The Americans aren't even sure which Mexicans are, indeed, trustworthy. They do trust Alejandro for reasons not entirely made clear initially to Agent Macer. In the apprehension of Diaz's imprisoned man Guillermo (Edgar Arreola), viewers get to see Alejandro is no ordinary counselor. When Diaz's men pursue the DOD team from Mexico into Texas, Alejandro and Graver's men quickly respond. Kate, meanwhile, questions the legality of the whole operation, not knowing that getting the men responsible for the Arizona incident would lead to the extreme measures she witnesses. The script comes from first-time scenarist Taylor Sheridan is dark and cynical about the operations on both sides. However, films that examine the darker side of US-Mexico relations include No Country For Old Men, Man On Fire, and the based-on-fact Kill The Messenger. Those films show the personal toll far better than this by-the-numbers action drama.
The big reason to see Sicario is Del Toro as Alejandro, a man whose name in the drug world is Medellin. His years as a lawyer made him a man of words, and the years after that made him a man of action. In between the two is a man of few words, keeping much of his past and his true intentions to himself. He's a man people want on their side, and that sometimes includes Kate. On an evening away from the work, she goes out on a date with a fellow officer named Ted (Jon Bernthal), but that evening threatens to turn violent. Alejandro arrives on the scene to make sure that does not happen. He also can use people, such as Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez), a Juarez police officer who secretly works for Diaz and Alcaron. At every turn, Alejandro shows his way of dispensing justice. I also like Blunt as Macer, who slowly but surely learns the reason for her presence, and her final moments with Alejandro make everything clear. Brolin is also good as the usually casually-clad Graver, who sees his work as another day in the office while trying to lay out a plan that he doesn't tell Kate up front.

Sicario offers a cynical look at the drug war that doesn't say things about it that have been stated better in previous cinematic fare. The film, nevertheless, shows how little has changed in the battle to combat the illegal drug trade other than the techniques and the body count. Both sides seemed resigned to the battle and its eventual losses, even as they try to claim some sort of a victory. Sicario, as well as Villeneuve's 2013 film Prisoners, show that the director has some flair for capturing the dark side of human nature. The films, though, needed to to a better job of engagin the audience. It seems as if Villeneuve borrowed a pair of Graver's flip flops, and liked how they fit.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Sicario three stars. Call on the counselor!


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    • profile image

      Pat Mills 2 years ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      Thanks Mel. The movie will surely be on Netflix before too long. The box office numbers haven't been that good.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I like Brolin, who I just saw in Everest, and I like Del Toro, so maybe if this makes the NetFlix or regular TV rotation I will check it out. Great hub!