Whenever there’s an R rating and a vague government FBI drug story, I find myself frantically looking around for a friend to drag along with me so I won’t be alone at 12:30 a.m. This time, I watched “Sicario,” a movie about the drug war in Mexico.
Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited for an FBI team after a particularly horrifying discovery connected to a cartel. She is dragged into a secret mission that leads into Mexico, out of legal territory, straight up the ladder of power in the drug war. The Hispanic agent Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), whom she didn’t trust, was personally motivated to complete the mission in finishing off the drug war leaders. The ending is predictable, but the conclusion the audience draws from it is different than expected. Instead of Kate walking into the sunset, the story ends with the reminder that success in war doesn’t always mean a happily ever after.
The main characters are stereotypical, with an inexperienced female agent, a mysterious Hispanic advisor motivated by revenge, and a DOD leader who would compromise legality for control of the drug cartels (Josh Brolin). Because they are predictable, the film is able to develop different parts of the story.
Rated R for violence and language, this movie is challenging in its approach of the topic of drug wars and cartels. Although the characters do not talk a lot, their horror is expressed through facial expressions, the imagery, and the sound effects.
I had seen Emily Blunt in “The Edge of Tomorrow” as a strong, independent female character who is hardened to the effects of war, and I expected her to be the same in this movie. What I saw instead is a woman who had hoped to make a difference in the evil she had seen, but had underestimated the horror and blurred lines between right and wrong, legal and illegal. Over the course of the film, Kate’s worldview is challenged, and the atrocities she sees affect her psychologically, emotionally, and physically.
The movie also shows the personal life of a Mexican police officer who uses his position to traffic drugs. The movie fleshes out how the drug leaders are people with families and children. Their identities are not solely based in killing people or trafficking drugs; they are people with a community who watch their boys play sports.
One of the ways the film uses imagery is to express the historical and religious context. The movie begins with textual exposition explaining the history of the title, “Sicario,” which means “hitman” in Spanish. The term originated from the Sicarii, a group of Jews who attempted to drive the Romans out of their homeland in the first century CE. Additionally, there are aerial shots showing the phrase “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” carved in Spanish on the side of the mountain, and a climactic moment has a background painting of a Catholic Jesus.
The movie ends with enough of a conclusion to keep the audience satisfied, but this conclusion is lined with the reminder that even if one problem is solved, it does not come without cost and the battle is never won.
The R rating gave me pause initially, but I am glad I chose this. It was a hard movie to watch and it sparked my interest in learning more about the drug war. Although I did not always understand the directorial and orchestral decisions, the concepts and unexpected development made up for it. The drug war isn’t pretty, and this movie handles the truth and expresses it in a way the audience can understand without being overwhelming.