Sicario:Perfect Terror of the Drug War

There is a lesson at the heart of HBO’s phenomenal TV show The Wire; and it is that democracy can never actually be achieved. It is like the end of infinity, which we can only strive to reach but never achieve. It is, by all means, an illusion, a figment of the imagination conceived by human complexity. Dogs, cats and robots can live under a perfect democratic society because they are, under the circumstances, utterly predictable, unlike us. We are too ambitious, too conscientious, too self aware to apply such a rigid socio-political structure. Our nature simply does not allow it, not yet anyway. And when we apply the “war on drugs” to this already unstable egalitarian equation, things get fuzzy.

The film that addresses this situation, in a very brave way, I might add, is Sicario. The film is actually on limited release (Ethiopia is somehow one of those countries); so few people have had the good fortune to see it yet, and how lucky those people have been for they have had the opportunity to watch the film before mainstream audiences have misjudged and spoiled it for what it looks like on the surface: a revenge movie.

At the centre of this film is Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Kate who volunteers herself for a joint task force (one of those instances where US intelligence agencies come together for a supposedly common cause), that aims to take down a notorious drug lord residing in Mexico. This mission is not a demand of protocol but is a necessity. A recent incident has left two American officers and dozens of unidentified victims dead on US soil. So it is only standard to enlist the kind of people that would get the job done, whatever it takes, while also at the same time, exercise discretion, not just from the general public but also from the superiors (it would not necessarily be perjury when they claim ignorance in court), who hired them in first place. Kate is not one of those people.

The operation is being led by a Defense Department contractor named Matt (Josh Brolin), who never actually states his true intentions but appears to be totally sensible, and a Mexican adviser – Alejandro (Benecio del Toro), who seems completely out of place. These two men blur the line between what is considered right and wrong, while Kate is forced to fathom the consequences of their actions.

Sicario comes from its deliberation; how long its director put the audience in suspense before finally revealing the true intention of its main characters. From the second the film begins to the second it ends, there is a burdening mysticism that never lets its audience forget that the movie is not a joke, but an unforgiving depiction of the so called drug war in unflinching realism. Denis Villeneuve’s movies are always like this.

The movie shares the same themes as that of Villeneuve’s Incendies – another movie with a horrifying plot twist. Both movies have main characters that are innocent but, even before the movie begins, they have lost and will forever be damaged. There is a sense of loss and a sense of impotency to his characters as they are left to ponder the fact that have never had a chance to begin with, when it comes to dealing with something as a ruthless as war.

Villeneuve (who is being hailed as the successor of Anthony Mann, and worthy of the contrast), never employs the wrong actors to depict his defeated characters and Sicario is no exception. The cast is led by Emily Blunt who portrays Kate in her infinitesimal impressions, as if her life depends on it. The role demands tact and a certain amount of graciousness and Blunt – what a strange last name by the way – does not betray her characters needs.

Blunt’s character, more or less, faces off against the film’s two male leads. One of them is played by Brolin in a particularly Brolin manner – which is not a bad thing in any way. It is just that we always know what to expect from him; while the other is played by the coolest, most suave actor alive today. Del Toro is not just an actor, he is a figure. He never has to actually act, he could just sit and stare throughout the entire movie and I would still probably be impressed. The secret to his brilliant acting method is not in what he does but in what he does not. He plays Alejandro accurately, bravely, with no false or unnecessary moves.

There is one scene in the film that puts Sicario in perfect perspective. It begins with a long overhead shot of a mountainous landscape that shows the characters leaving the US for an alien country. After Kate and the team grab a drug lord for an extradition – all the while the score is intense and seems about to explode at any time, they make their way back to their sane country. But just before the border, Kate spots a huge police force congregated at a bridge; they have surrounded something. Alejandro, sitting just beside her, in his condescending and penetrating manner says to her, “Welcome to Juarez,” and indicates for her to look out her car window. She does, and she sees, at the midst of the police and spectator crowd, several naked and mutilated bodies hanging from the side of the bridge. And this is not even the film’s most terrifying moment.

By Christian Tesfaye
Fortune in-house film critic

Published on Oct 05,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 805]



Our subscribers to the print edition are entitled to get a bonus in a f...


Although the fall armyworm pest set foot for the first time in Ethiopia...


Our subscribers to the print edition are entitled t...


Unlike the East Asian experience, which was industrialisation without e...


Our subscribers to the print edition are entitled to get a bonus in a f...


Our subscribers to the print edition are entitled to get a bonus in a f...

View From Arada

The country has reached the state of emergency because of the negligenc...

Editors Pick






Subscribe to our Newsletter

* indicates required