Sicario does to the ‘War on Drugs’ what Hurt Locker did to the ‘War on Terror,’ offering an unapologetic snapshot of war, light on the politics.
The audience is dropped into the fight along with the characters and left to sort out the chaotic stream of events from themselves. The primary witness to the American side is Drug Enforcement Agent, Macy (Blunt). While the other witness to the tale, Silvio, is a Mexican Cop who traffics drugs for the Sonora Cartel to keep food on the table for his family.
It begins with a DEA raid gone wrong, and from there, Macy is whisked off to Mexico on an Intergovernmental Operation that she knows nothing about. She’s introduced to the two men in charge of the Op, Matt (Brolin) and his mysterious partner, ‘Medellin’ (Torro). And though they’ve invited Macy along, neither of them seems to give rats as what she does or says, so long as she stays out of their way.
When she inquires about what exactly they’re doing in Mexico, Medellin responds with, “You’re asking me how the watch is made, for now lets just keep an eye on the time.” It’s a clever bit of dialogue that encapsulates the feel of the film, because it flows from one scene to the next. It also serves to describe how Matt and Medellin work. Neither man has an intricate plan, just an endgame. They intend to shake the ‘cartel tree’ and in the hopes that whatever falls out will lead them to the top.
When they do shake the tree, the film goes from zero to one hundred in a matter of seconds, throwing Macy, and as a result, the audience in a state of quiet tension. This is thanks to every supporting actor in the film pulling off an immersive performance. Each man in the ‘Intergovernmental Task Force,’ quips with the other, selling the idea that not only is this just a job for Matt’s merry band of mercenaries, but they’ve done this time and time again.
Spoilers—While the first act of the film begins with a wide shot of several characters, the second act slowly focuses in on the hero, or at least, the character that the whole narrative focuses around. We learn that Medellin earned his name because he used to work for the Columbian cartel, until the leader of the Mexican Cartel put out a hit on his family. And now the CIA are using him as their own personal Molotov cocktail to throw at the Mexicans—my enemy’s enemy, and all that jazz.
Because of this, Medellin is revealed as the median between the Americans and the Mexicans, between the Macy and Silvio. He doesn’t have a country or credo, only a personal mission to kill those responsible. And he doesn’t disappoint, earning the film’s title of Sicario, or Hitman. There’s no big over the top firefight—he’s too good for that. His revenge is swift and direct. Anyone that gets in his way, innocent or not, is left dead or incapacitated.
The politics of Sicario aren’t heavy handed; it doesn’t condone the actions of the characters, nor does it take a pacifist stance. But it does end with a sense that nothing’s been accomplished from all the bloodshed. On the American side of the fence, Macy is left to live out the rest of her life looking over her shoulder because of her involvement in the op. And on the Mexican side, Silvio’s family is still plagued by the sound of far off firefights as result of the task force’s actions.
And as for Medellin, he goes right back to work.