Sicario is a gorgeously haunting movie that you sort of feel rather than see. Even the music was written to be felt and not seen. The whole of this movie is like an oil leak coming up through your bed or through your feet or something. Evil that is just emanating through the floor and you aren’t sure where you are what has brought this awful and dark story into your life. And it happens so quickly and with such alacrity that it’s surprising. The narration and the constant escalation of events and twists and turns can’t be turned away from.
And now you can read my Sicario: Day of the Soldado review – which can be found right here – if you want to venture even further down this amazing rabbit hole. And if you haven’t watch the original Sicario yet, consider watching it here, in order to help me keep putting out more discussion worthy posts like this one.
I stumbled into Sicario accidentally. It was more of a comedy of errors that sat me down to watch this movie, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I think I had seen one trailer for the movie months and months earlier, so I think I knew that it was about drugs – and I also knew that Emily Blunt was in it. I know I knew this because I was struck by how similarly the role was to her recent role in Edge of Tomorrow. But there was so much more to this movie than drugs and Emily. If you haven’t seen it, watch the trailer, read my overview and then come back again later. I will be delving into spoilers… but I’ll clearly demarcate them. Promise.
The movie opens on a terrible terrible scene that seems out of Hollywood, but is probably understated against what is really going on in Mexico. We find ourselves breaching a home that seems to be in the center of the drug storm with local authorities tracking a lead. When the local authorities and police begin discovering body after body in the walls of the house, as well as a booby trapped shed, the audience has a feeling that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.
It’s the rapidly increasing violence on the U.S. and Mexico border that propels this movie forward. But we are in lock step with Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she quickly spirals downwards from a fairly firm footing and quick responses to completely unclear vantage or perspective of what is going on all around her. At some times she wonders what team she is on, or what she is even doing involved in this chaos inducing rock tumbler of a situation.
Kate begins to meet her new team, and starts to feel them all out for what is going on. Soon she meets the elusive character Alejandro, that is described by her team as a “sicario” which is Spanish for hitman. Matt (Josh Brolin), their team lead, doesn’t help to allay Kate’s fears, in fact he regularly works to fan them as their role in the local violence seems solely to continuously make matters worse, or stoke the local flames of violence all the more. Kate begins to have a crisis of identity as she tries to figure out what she is doing there. Is she making matters worse? Or is she helping?
Sicario Spoiler Zone
Alright, so that was about as far as the non-viewing passengers should go. From here on out I’ll be delving deeper into the storyline than I think virgin eyes should go. You’ve been warned. But you are definitely welcome back after you’ve had an opportunity to watch this amazingly powerful movie. You can rest assured, that my conclusion below will say that everyone will enjoy this movie, while also being repulsed by it. It’s worth a watch. So now… go.
Sicario Deeper Dive
To really understand Sicario, you have to understand that you are Kate. You have no real idea of what is really going on in this ‘war on drugs’. You don’t know the players. You don’t know the tactics. You don’t know anything besides the fact that you want to make a difference. Right? You want the war to stop. You want innocent civilians to stop being killed in the inner cities. You want the rapidly escalating wars between the cartels in Mexico and at the borders to stop. All you know is that you are all in for finally making a difference. But the larger question here is, do you really want to make a difference? Or do you just want to act like you want to make a difference?
As the movie opens, our Kate (or, our thinly veiled personal psyche on the screen) finds herself working with Matt Graver, who is all kinds of flip flop casual, and charming. He is unassuming, and confident, simultaneously. There is something else going on here with Matt… but we (Kate) can’t sort it all out. And as soon as we start to sort anything out at all, the playing field shifts again under our feet. Should we continue further down the rabbit hole? Or should we not continually upping the violence to meet the threat?
To make matters worse, Kate and Alejandro have this crazy enigmatic connection that maybe sexual? No, that doesn’t feel right, it’s something else going on here. The Sicario is protective and threatening to Kate simultaneously. And as we find out, Kate reminds Alejandro of someone… but who? We don’t find out that it’s his daughter that Alejandro is reminded of. The daughter that was boiled alive in acid by the local drug lords. Which basically means, the namesake of our movie is a completely unhinged human being, ready and willing to do anything and everything to cut the head off of this particular snake. This inner boiling turmoil is the relentless engine that systematically powers this movie right off the cliff of reasonableness.
Do you remember the first really monumental foray across the boarder and the sprint back across the boarder? The gun battle out in the middle of the car congested highway? Kate ends up killing the last gun wielding lunatic… and she begins swearing at herself about killing him. She didn’t want to be involved, she didn’t want to kill anyone… she was in Mexico, illegally, killing Mexicans, and way way in over her head.
And there we are, holding on tight to Alejandro, the only one who really knows what is going on all around us. He is the only one with any sort of chance at our getting an explanation. Which, I shouldn’t have to tell you, is a truly bad logical conclusion to come to. But that is where Kate (we) finds herself (ourselves) after all the cards have been played. Which reminds me of a quote that Alejandro says to Kate when they detoured from El Paso to Mexico, “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do but in the end, you will understand.”
Sicario and Vietnam
For me, this movie was a trip back to the Vietnamese war movies that I marinated in throughout my teen years. I couldn’t read enough books on the topic. Warfront supply chain efforts. Military police efforts. Tunnel rat experts. Helicopter pilot biographies. Macro war strategies. Vietnam politics in D.C. Everything. I couldn’t get enough about the war (engagement, conflict, whatever). But mainly I was interested in this idea that we didn’t actually want to win the war, and that we were bridled by politicians thousands of miles away. And since Vietnam, all of our global conflicts have been shaped by our failure in Vietnam (some more than others, unfortunately.) But this sentiment is similar to our “War on Drugs”… is this really a war we want to win?
Reminds me of a recent amazing documentary called Cartel Land, that I haven’t had the time to get around and talk about here. Local vigilantes arm up and patrol the border on their own. The escalation, in their mind, is all about fighting force with force. Which is the point here in Sicario. Should we bring in the Alejandros of this world, and stir the hornet’s nest in order to flush the drug lords out, and then, when they least expect it, should we drop our machetes on their necks?
Let’s be honest here… at the end of the day, Sicario is more a Vietnam movie than a movie about the war on drugs. There is no hope here. We are embroiled in a never ending battle for control of the border, and the substances that fuel an illicit economy. In Vietnam, it was an ideological battle that fueled the grenade launchers and napalm runs. And here too, we have an ideological battle playing out across the Southwest DMZ. We have two different escalating ideas, that have brought us to the brink of these terrible exchanges. And all the while, we (Kate) continue to ask ourselves… how the hell did we end up here? What wrong turn did we make to end up in this mess?
The larger question asked in Sicario is simple enough. Our innocent rule following Kate, is totally flummoxed by her sudden plunge into dark savagery. But this is the question… is this brutality the only effective response to the war on drugs? Has the other side gone so completely overboard, so completely over the top, that the only really adequate chess move available to us is our own version of the darkness as well? Is insanity the only real response to insanity?
At the end of the movie, we realize what this movie is really all about. This movie isn’t about the War on Drugs at all. It isn’t about our need to escalate or deescalate. It isn’t about anything that we’ve been shown on the screen actually at all. Sicario is about ourselves, about our own internal struggle with evil. Kate is questioning her internal drivers and motivations and even her own culpability.
In the end we do understand though. As Kate is pointing the gun at Alejandro, we know she won’t pull the trigger. I even said it to myself before she raised the gun… “Don’t even bother.” Oh, she did it. Ok, then, put it down now. We get it. You are mad at yourself, and you don’t have the guts to do it.
I think the more interesting question that this movie brings up is whether or not we have the will or the fortitude to pull that trigger as a society. Will it actually change anything or make it worse? Which is another great question if we swivel a bit and think about larger wars as well. Are the beneficial, ultimately. Or do they only make matters worse in the long run.
I enjoyed this movie immensely and thought it was one hell of a ride. And if you just go along for the ride, then this whole entire review is going to seem superfluous. Because for you, it was all about bigger and better explosions and gun battles. Which there were plenty of. But if you were even quasi-aware, you saw the themes and hints at a deeper story that should speak to the possibility of evil in all of us.
Edited by: CY