FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) sits in a vast office across from her superior Dave Jennings (Victor Garber). Having just been put through the physical and emotional ringer the last few days, working with a new team of Department of Defense “consultants” to capture notorious drug cartel kingpin Manuel Diaz (Bernardo P. Saracino), she has come to moral impasse.
Kate has spent her whole career wanting to make a real difference on the war on drugs, having spent the majority of her career on the front lines, or rather the border lines, she spends her time cleaning up the nightmarish symptoms of the war. Her frivolous victories at the tip of the spear have left her wanting to do anything, including joining this new task force, to find a cure for the war.
But the actions of lead DOD consultant Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), his enforcer Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), and Matt’s elite special forces unit have left her questioning her own beliefs. Having already shown her that they are willing to take drastic and quite often morally depraved measures in their pursuit of Diaz, she finds herself questioning how this team is allowed to do the things they do and if those actions are worth it. Kate wants to fight the war, she wants to win the war, but she wants to do it the right way, the just way.
Kate pleads with her boss to let her move forward with her laundering investigation. Kate believes that the team can collect enough evidence to arrest Diaz for money laundering. All she needs is to get records of the Diaz’s bank transactions, but Matt stops her from pressing forward, telling her that Diaz is just small part of a much bigger plan.
Jennings calmly explains that there are people above him, and people above the people above him, who know all about what Matt and his team are doing. If Kate believes that they have been crossing legal boundaries, those boundaries have just been expanded.
Kate leaves the office infuriated by what she has just heard. At this point Kate has made up her mind, she believes things should be done the just way and clearly the people in charge think differently. The movie could have ended here, but that wouldn’t make for an exciting film, so the film pushes Kate away.
Kate is supposed to be the vessel for the audience. We see the film through her eyes, and she shows us how we should react to what is transpiring in the film. But after the boundaries speech, Kate is pushed out of the boundaries of the film to a place where she is no longer vital to the story and we are pushed along with her. The boundaries speech effectively lowers the viewers stakes.
We are no longer fighting for what is right we are viewers of what is wrong. From this point on, Kate and the viewers are merely a powerless witnesses to the actions of Matt and Alejandro, and those actions lead to more and more scenes of beautifully shot violence.
Many people die in Sicario, even children die, but those deaths never add up to anything. A whole subplot about an ill-fated family leads to nothing because their fates have already decided by rules of Sicario.
Are the death of innocent adults and children supposed to emotionally effect us when film glorifies the expertness of its killers?
The third act of the film essentially becomes an anti-hero revenge film, featuring Liam Neeson worthy one-liners. The people around me weren’t talking about the merits of these violent men’s actions. They only spoke about how great the action looked, quoting tough guy lines as they exited the theater doors.
No wonder reports are saying that the studio may be working on a spin-off film for the Alejandro character.
Sicario’s beautifully shot yet terribly violent set pieces mask any potent political message. Why should viewers be up in arms when there are no boundaries for these characters, and the only person who believes there should be, can only watch.
Being a witness to the violence of the drug war isn’t powerful enough anymore. Kate is a witness to violence that many of us have already seen before.
Maybe it is just the American apathy, or appetite that we have towards violence. When people binge watch shows on the violent deeds of Pablo Escobar, hear about the violence going on in their local neighborhoods on the local news, and read about the mass deaths happening nationwide, it is going to take more than scenes of vast violence to elicit an emotional response.
If it is not apathy viewers are feeling then, maybe it is helplessness. The drug war wages on with no end in sight, maybe that is why so many movie goers are much more interested in the violence of Sicario than any perceived message. The war has become background noise, something to be ignored, while we go on with our lives. An endless and escalating war, where violence only begets more violence. Where boundaries don’t exist because we aren’t there to hold them up.
It’s a shame that Sicario’s limp story sticks with me so strongly. Sicario is often a breathtaking and beautifully shot thriller with rarely a wasted shot, but the writing leaves me in this weird place, where I am left wondering what the point of the film was.
Sicario feels like a movie that would have been much more powerful if it was made five years ago because what transpires in the film is not nearly as shocking or as powerful as it probably was when it was first written. Or maybe I am just looking too deep into a beautifully made thriller, dressed up as a politically important film.