Reel Talk

Sicario: Welcome to Juarez

Sicario Poster

So I went to the theater and saw a new movie twice this weekend, and man could they not be less alike, aside from the fact that they’re both great. Saturday I saw the amazing optimism of the Martian, and felt happy about the human race and life in general. And then Sunday that feeling of optimism and faith in the world was promptly quashed when I went to check out the new flick from Denis Villeneuve, the director of Prisoners, Sicario. Now I still haven’t seen Prisoners, although I did once buy a ticket for it, because when I went to check it out, on the last weekend my local theater was playing it, the projector broke right after all the trailers, and I had to leave, but I’ve heard it’s great, and if the tone and feel of it is anything like Sicario, I’m sure it’s amazing. Because holy crap was this a great movie. An adult thriller that was more interested in it’s suspense and message than blood and guts, a rarity in this day and age. I was so interested and excited for this movie I even allowed myself to go to a big chain theater, and was promptly reminded why I hate them when I had an old couple talk most of the way through, and some weird dude loudly laugh and applaud along any time Josh Brolin did something repellent, clearly missing the point of the movie. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

I knew next to nothing about this movie going in, other than the cast, the general premise of Mexican drug cartels, and the fact that everyone was praising it for being an amazingly entertaining grown up thriller. The movie stars the amazing Emily Blunt as Kate Macer, an FBI agent in Arizona running a raid on a suspected cartel safehouse that supposedly contains hostages. We get an intense scene of Macer and her squad breaching the disgusting house, and taking out all of the cartel members. But right when they think it was a routine mission, they discover that the walls of the house are full of corpses, hidden by the cartel. The begin searching the house, finding dozens of bodies, and when one of the squad members finds a trap-door in the shed, he tries to opens it and triggers a bomb that kills several people. Macer then is brought to her bosses, she assumes to be punished, but is instead introduced to a man named Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who claims to be an adviser from the Department of Defense, and asks her to join him and his team on a mission looking into the cartel responsible for the corpses and the explosions. He makes it clear that he just wants her, not her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) and that it’s her decision. She decides to go with him, and is then flown out to El Paso, on what she assumes is a routine investigation. She also meets Alejandro, Graver’s mysterious partner played by the amazing Benicio Del Toro. But when they get to El Paso Kate learns that she isn’t being told the truth, a theme of this movie, and they aren’t just going to El Paso. They’re going into Juarez and extraditing a high ranking member of the cartel.

Sicario Blunt

And once they get into Juarez we get an amazingly intense scene that stretches on for an amazingly long time. They get in a fleet of conspicuous black SUV’s that are full of soldiers, Texas Marshall’s, and the group of Macer, Graver, and Alejandro. They get through to the courthouse that’s housing the cartel boss, all the while assuming that at any moment they could be gunned down by hidden cartel members. And once they get the boss, they haul ass back to the border, and right before they get out scott free, they get trapped just before getting over the American border on a small bridge, and are attacked by cartel assassins. And holy crap was it a masterful and intense scene. I can’t even describe it with any justice, it’s just a lot of looking into the surrounding cars, trying to decide if anyone is posing a threat, right before the shit hits the fan. But they make it out, and bring the boss to El Paso, where they promptly start water-boarding him to get information about the cartel. And I really loved the way that the water-boarding scene was handeled. We don’t see it, it’s not glorified, and in fact it’s rather vilified, made a disgusting thing we don’t want to see. But it does get a result, and the boss tells Graver and Alejandro about a secret tunnel under the border that the cartel is using to transport product. Macer then calls Reggie back into the team, and they begin demanding to know what’s going on, since neither of them trust Alejandro, or what Graver is doing. Turns out that their plan is to raise some hell for the cartel, destroy some of their money and disrupt their drug transport, in the hopes that it will spook another high ranking boss that they have been tracking and lead them to the real boss, assuming he’d go running for help.

The group then heads to a local bank that the cartel is using to hide some of their money, and Macer sees the group take down one of their money launderers, and capture some of the funds, all of which are tied up in these strange tye-dyed bracelets like those Livestrong one’s we were all wearing ten years ago. But during the raid, Macer disobeys Graver, and goes inside the bank, getting her image taken by the security camera, which is being monitored by the cartel. Macer and Reggie then go to a local bar to blow off some steam, and Reggie introduces Macer to a cop named Ted (the upcoming Punisher Jon Bernthal) who takes a liking to Macer, and the two even end up going back to Macer’s place. But before they have sex, Macer realizes that Ted has one of those tye-dye bracelets in his possession. He’s working with the cartel! She then tries to fight him and escape, and she does really well for herself, being a trained FBI agent, but Ted uses his size and starts to choke her, until Alejandro shows up, and beats the shit out of him. Apparently Graver and Alejandro thought he was a dirty cop, and basically set her as bait. We also see Alejandro torture Ted with the violent wet-willie of all time.

Sicario Graver

We then reach what I felt was the weakest part of the movie, where the team heads to the tunnel they learned about with the intention of causing a huge distraction that will cause the boss they have under surveillance to bail. Graver also admits that he and his men are CIA, and the only reason Macer and Reggie are there is because it’s against regulation for the CIA to work inside the US unless they’re helping another organization. So Macer and Reggie were just a legal loophole that Graver enlisted so they could do things on American soil. The group then marches through the tunnel, mostly shot in night vision and thermal vision, which really made the scene drag for me. I’m watching a movie, not playing Call of Duty. But while the rest of the team is shooting cartel members, Macer sees Alejandro sneak off and follows him. Alejandro ends up getting into a warehouse over the border that has some cartel workers, and a corrupt cop that we’ve been checking in with occasionally throughout the movie. Alejandro kills the cartel members, and takes the cop hostage, and shoots Macer’s bulletproof vest to stop her from interfering. She makes it out to the group, and Graver explains that Alejandro works for the Columbian drug cartels, and is helping the CIA destroy the Mexican cartel so that the Columbians can take over again, like the days of Pablo Escobar. Apparently the CIA thinks it was easier dealing with drug cartels when there was on giant one instead of dozens of small ones.

The movie then becomes Benicio Del Toro’s for a while as he makes the cop pull over the cartel boss they’ve been stalking, and ends up killing the cop and taking the boss hostage. He drives the boss to the head of the cartel’s compound, and kills everyone inside, eventually sitting with the cartel boss himself. Turns out Alejandro’s wife and daughter were viciously killed by cartel members, and he’s trying to take them all out as vengeance. He straight up kills the Cartel boss’ wife and kids in front of him, before killing the boss, and heads back to America, his mission accomplished. We end the movie with Macer alone in her apartment before Alejandro shows up again, forcing her to sign a document saying everything they did was legal, otherwise he’d kill her. He then suggests she move to a different part of the country, because the border between the US and Mexico is going to get much worse before it gets better. The movie then ends with the incredibly bleak scene of the cop that Alejandro killed’s son playing soccer, without his dad, before the game is interrupted by gunshots in the distance.

Sicario Alejandro

This movie was amazingly intense and wonderfully bleak. It reminded me of movies like Dr. Strangelove,  not in tone, but in the sense that I’m sure it so much closer to the truth of the world than I would ever want to admit. It’s just so dark and depressing. Graver is everything wrong with the CIA, a crazed psychopath who is gleefully water-boarding cartel members and lying to honest law enforcers to get his own way. Possibly the most disturbing thing about the movie was the weird dude in the audience with me who laughed and clapped at almost every disgusting thing Brolin’s character did, apparently not getting the message that we were supposed to hate him. And holy crap was that ending depressing. They’re letting the Colombian cartel become omnipotent instead of dealing with other smaller cartels. A couple weeks ago I saw the movie Black Mass, and would have written about it, but I really didn’t have anything to say about it. The most interesting thing about Black Mass was the idea of the American Government making their own enemies by strengthening people they think are bad, but not as bad as the real bad guys, in the hopes that they’ll help kill off the real villain, which almost always backfires and just lets the first group become more powerful. And really, this movie handled the subject way better than Black Mass. This was a great movie. Dark, depressing and wonderfully intense. We need more adult thriller like this that aren’t catering to stupid teenagers who just want the movie to be a violent mess.

Sicario was written by Taylor Sheridan, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and distributed by Lionsgate, 2015.

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