In a quiet part of Chandler, Arizona an FBI SWAT team bursts into a house to rescue hostages. A terse gunfight ensues and when the dust settles they make a startling discovery. There are no hostages there, but the house hides something more sinister. It’s walls are full of corpses. Rotting corpses. It’s enough to send the tough agents retching and vomiting.
Our protagonist, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), the idealistic by the books FBI agent who was part of the raid soon finds herself dragged (increasingly unwillingly) into the cross border drug trafficking between Mexico and the United States of America. It’s a world where traditional notions of good and evil have lost all meaning. Those concepts simply don’t seem to apply. The people who occupy this world, those who live in the shadows and fringes of civilization have come to accept the fact that there is no law, no justice, no crime or punishment. There is only order and chaos.
Order can be controlled and the powers that be prefer to have control.
I have to admit, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. I love stories where our protagonist is dragged into another world where everything they believe in is turned on it’s head. I also love stories where an idealistic hero is placed in a corrupt world. Does the hero change the environment or does the environment consume him/her?
One of the most recent films (high profile, at least) that did this was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Captain America, the idealistic moral centre of the MCU finds himself in a world of espionage, secrets and double crosses. Of course, he’s Captain America and if push comes to shove he has friends in high places and in higher worlds.
Kate Macer has no such luck. All she has are her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya), CIA spook Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the enigmatic Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). She can only trust one of them.
Alejandro is a brilliant character. He stays quietly on the sidelines for most of the film and only comes into focus every now and then. But when he does you realise the film is more about him than about Kate Macer. That’s not to say Kate Macer isn’t important or even that she’s a decoy protagonist. Quite the contrary, in fact. Kate is our moral compass. She’s our lifeline to the normal world. Without her we would be lost.
But it is definitely Alejandro’s movie. It’s a tricky thing to pull off. Focusing on Alejandro himself would make this a generic action film. In choosing to focus on Kate Macer, director Denis Villeneuve elevates Sicario from a mere action film to something else entirely.
To me Sicario seems to hinge around one theme. What is justice in a world where there are no rules. If simple order is the best you can hope for, is it wrong to try to achieve that by any means. At the end it comes down to that age old question. Does the end justify the means?
Kate Macer is a modern day Alice and the world of cross-border drug trafficking is her very own Wonderland where everything is turned upside down. The Kate who came out of the rabbit hole is not the same woman who went in, but the choice she makes at the end of the movie suggests (to me) she still retains her compass.
Sicario was a fantastic film.