If you’ve ever wondered how violent and insidious the Mexican drug cartels and our persistent war against them are, this is the movie for you! From the first frame you’re plunged into a blood-soaked world where law enforcement is impotent, and successes come with collateral damage. Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent who’s trying unsuccessfully to stem the tide of killings on the US side of the Arizona border. Following a bombing that kills several of her fellow agents, she is invited to join a multi-agency task force tracking down the perpetrator. It’s headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who keeps her (and the audience) in the dark about his strategies and motivations for much of the operation. Benicio Del Toro joins them as Alejandro, the titular sicario, Spanish for hitman, though he’s given “consultant” status. And before you know it, they’re all in Mexico where mutilated bodies hang from bridges as warnings from the cartels, blazing in with the help of the Mexican federal police to extract someone for Alejandro to torture some information out of back home. It is not a pretty picture.
You don’t really know which agency Matt is working for, or exactly what his long range plan is, except that he and Alejandro are both dying to rattle Manuel Diaz, the guy who killed Kate’s friends, forcing him to lead them to the kingpin of the cartel, Fausto Alarcon. They’re both working from different motivations, but for the same outcome. Their backstories come out pretty slowly. Kate tries her best to be part of the team, but they keep her at arms length. Even then, she’s nearly killed on multiple occasions, and her idealistic view of law enforcement is challenged at every turn. These guys simply don’t play by the rules. Their strategy is to create chaos and follow it to their target. And Kate is just a necessary piece of their plan.
Emily Blunt is wonderful as Kate, courageous, but out of her depth in a den of wolves. Josh Brolin’s Matt is pure bravado and Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro has just the right mix of ruthlessness and compassion. This is not a film for the faint of heart. It is brutal, but the story keeps you on the edge of your seat. You want to make sense of it, but my suspicion is that the filmmakers were making the point that the drug war makes no sense. It is messy and violent and perhaps unwinnable, but people keep trying, however they can. And the laws be damned! Sicario is beautifully shot and the soundtrack keeps the tension right under the surface. It clearly isn’t a film for everyone. But if you are into violent thrillers, I’d recommend it. Could be a few Oscar noms, too.
[I just read that they are developing a sequel that is all about the Benicio Del Toro hitman. Makes sense. His was the most interesting character. Stay tuned.]