Spoilers to follow…
At the very beginning of the movie, text tells the viewer that the word Sicario is spanish for assassin but has its roots in the Jewish Zealots who were fighting to expel the Romans from Palestine. So, from the beginning the viewers knows there is a tension between the immorality of assassination and the moral high ground of a greater cause.
The movie begins with FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) leading a raid on a house in southern Arizona. Once the house is cleared they find that the walls are stuffed with dozens of bodies and a shed is wired to explode killing two officers.
After the sting there is a mysterious meeting where she gets invited by Department of Justice advisor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to take part in a joint task force. We later learn that Graver is a CIA agent. She is told they are going to San Antonio to see the brother of the cartel boss. But, instead they meet up with the mysterious Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) and a Delta team go to Mexico and illegally extract the brother from a Mexican prison to the USA.Graver and Gillick then torture the brother for information about a tunnel from Arizona to Mexico.
When Agent Macer esquires about the goals of the operation she is repeatedly given cryptic answers by Graver but eventually she finds out that they want to force Diaz, the cartel member who runs the operation in the US to go back to Mexico, though the reasoning isn’t completely clear. The team is able to find a way to freeze Diaz’s account which does indeed get him called back. At that point, the team raids the tunnel and Gillick uses that opportunity to sneak through and force a dirty Mexican cop to drive him. Macer had followed Gillick and when she sees Gillick abducting the cop she pulls her gun on him but he shoots her in the vest and leaves with the cop at gun point. The Delta team uses a satellite to track Diaz back to the cartel bosses house. Gillick follows their instructions to overtake Diaz kill him and all the guards and confront the cartel boss, Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cedillo). Alarcon had ordered the brutal deaths of Gillick’s wife and daughter when he was a prosecutor in Juarez. Gillick in return kills Alarcon’s wife and two son’s in front of him and then kills him.
When Macer returns through the tunnel she confronts Graver who initially dismisses her and then beats her down. She had made out by this point that Gillick actually worked for the Columbian cartels and the US was helping him assassinate the Mexican cartel lord. She says she is going to expose their illegal activities.
Once Macer is home Gillick forces her at gun point to sign paperwork saying that the team did everything by the book. When he leaves she pulls a gun on him, actually his own gun that he had disassembled and left in her apartment, and has the opportunity to shoot him as he stand unarmed in her parking lot. Hands shaking she lowers the gun and the movie ends.
The story and cinematography of this movie are compelling. But, when I write about movies I tend to look for themes of grace. There is no such theme in Sicario. Everything is completely broken. Macer was a good agent doing good work but she could tell that what they were doing wasn’t putting a dent in Diaz’ operation. That is what made he willing to be involved in the mysterious operation despite her misgivings. When she grew terribly concerned she went to her boss (played by Victor Garber) who assured her the operation was sanctioned and at a very high level by the “type of people who are elected to office, not appointed.” So presumably, this illegal activity which we eventually find out is leading toward the assassination of a foreign citizen on foreign land was sanctioned by the President. When she challenges Graver about the illegal activity she is beaten down and when she tries to refuse signing the paper brought to her by Gillick he makes clear that to do so would be “suicide.” Everything she believes in has been crushed. In the end, she has the chance to kill Gillick and as the audience we want her to. But, to shoot an unarmed man, even an evil one, would go against her character. But, even as she lowers the gun her hands are trembling as if it is as much fear as conviction that is keeping her from shooting this ruthless person. Everything she was, everything she had worked for and believed in is gone. Gillick even advises her to move to a small town somewhere where the rule of law still existed because she was not a wolf.
Gillick came into the movie mysteriously and it takes a long time to figure out his story. We learn before he kills the drug lord that the drug lord had ordered his wife killed and his daughter dropped into a vat of acid. He wasn’t loyal to the Columbian he worked for anyone who gave him a chance at vengeance. This is a classic anti-hero motivation. The audience finds themselves rooting for him in some ways. He had been wronged and he even seemed to have a legitimate affection for Agent Macer who reminded him of his daughter. But, one the way to the drug lords house he seemed to needlessly kill the dirty Mexican cop whose wife and son we had met. He then confronts the drug lord at the dinner table with his family. After the drug lord asked Gillick not to kill him in front of his family, Gillick shoots kills the wife and two boys. He then tells the drug lord to continue eating dinner before he kills him. At the very end, he is clearly even willing to kill the woman who reminds him of his daughter. His brokenness is complete.
There was a mother and her soccer playing son and a Dad who slept too late and put alcohol in his coffee that we, the audience, kept seeing in the movie but we didn’t know why. Eventually, we found out that the father, a Mexican police officer, was transporting drugs for the cartel. As much as we didn’t like him we knew his wife and son so we were shocked when Gillick shot him in the back. Right at the end of the movie, we see the boy and his mother without the father. The boy is taking part in a soccer game on a dirt field. We know that the father is dead but they may not yet. During the game there is shooting in the distance, in the town. The game stops. The parents look over. The Children look over. Then, the game continues. This is just a part of their life. A broken life now without a father who despite his flaws was providing for them and living in an environment of brutal violence. Brokenness without hope of improvement.
There isn’t a lot of grace to draw on here. But, it does touch on reality. Many live in such brokenness and desperation. We tend to blame people’s brokenness on themselves. They didn’t do something or failed to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. But, Agent Macer was a good FBI agent fighting a good fight. She got recommended for the joint task force because she was so good. But, she was in a broken system that she could not fix on her own. The boy and his mother live in a broken nation with a broken father/ husband. Even the Sicario became an assassin because he was a prosecutor whose family had been killed. He became completely broken. But, we don’t know about the boy, his mother, or Agent Macer yet. But, we don’t feel hope for them. Some times that it the world in which we live. A world without grace. A world without hope. A world that needs hope and grace.