Sicario, the latest morally ambiguous thriller by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, is a stylish and cynical excursion into the compromises that are perhaps ultimately required in order to take down an all powerful cartel kingpin.
The movie starts out with an FBI raid in Arizona that leads the un-experienced agents to lose their lunch after discovering some bodies that have been wrapped in plastic and stashed behind the dry wall of an otherwise unassuming suburban home. The house is, of course, booby trapped with explosives, which is the first clue that this crime scene in connected to a much larger criminal syndicate.
Kate Macer (played by English actress Emily Blunt) heads the FBI kidnapping-rescue unit responsible for the chaotic raid. Too young and by-the-books to be unfazed by the carnage of her comrades, Kate’s mind goes toward revenge – a malignant mood that foreshadows the motivations of the entire film. When Kate is asked by a shadowy cabal of upper echelon G-men to volunteer for a sketchy project which will ostensibly take down the man behind the mayhem, she is more than willing to get onboard.
Her guides into this new world of escalation and ethical compromise are Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), a sort of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Deadly who will eventually lead her to the realization that there are no good guys to rely upon when conspiring to take down one really bad dude.
Given its subject matter, Sicario, which is Mexican slang for assassin, is rather light on comedy. The main joke comes by the casual manner in which del Toro commences a waterboarding scene that is otherwise left to the audience’s imagination. The film effectively suggests that larger than life drug lords can only be taken out by those who have no regard for life at all.
Sicario hit theaters at a time when governments trying to quash cartel leaders seem to have run out of ideas. This year, despite a massive manhunt, cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has managed to remain at large. After escaping though a tunnel in the shower stall of his cell in Mexico’s highest security prison, Guzmán let the world know that he was up on his U.S. politics by tweeting out threats directed at GOP candidate Donald Trump. In truth, Guzmán is almost considered a folk hero in much of Mexico. There were even “El Chapo” masks worn at Halloween.
Sicario, with its attractive cast and Zero Dark Thirty-styled direction, is a clear affirmation that when it comes to dealing with notorious narco-types, engaging in extreme measures is something that the public might buy into, at least while buying popcorn.