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Film / Sicario

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Sicario nmf /si.'ka.rjo/ (asesino a sueldo)
assassin or hired killer; hitman.

"You ask how the watch is made. Keep your eye on the time."

Sicario is a 2015 American thriller film directed by Denis Villeneuve from a screenplay written by Taylor Sheridan. It stars Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Victor Garber.

The film tells the story of Kate Macer (Blunt), an idealistic FBI Special Weapons and Tactics Teams agent, who is enlisted by government official Matt Graver (Brolin) to aid in a joint task force — which includes his mysterious partner, Alejandro Gillick (del Toro) — in tracking down an anonymous drug lord.

Kate, wishing to avenge the deaths of two of her fellow officers that that the drug lord was apparently responsible for, jumps at the call, but as the task force digs deeper into the cartels, their methods become more and more questionable, and Kate begins to wonder whose side the task force is really on — and whether she has gotten in over her head.

A sequel, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, followed in 2018 with a new director (Stefano Sollima). Prior to its release, a third film was announced to be in development; its name was announced as Sicario: Capos in early 2021.

Character tropes go on to the Characters Sheet.

Sicario contains examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The movie jumps right into action with a SWAT Team raid including Stuff Blowing Up.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: After spending the majority of the film focused on Kate's point of view, the last portion of the movie focuses on Alejandro's Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Anti-Villain: Silvio appears to be a loving husband and father who works as a mule on the side. It’s possible he’s been coerced into doing it.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: Neither Matt nor Alejandro seem bothered to bring Kate into the loop about the specifics of the mission. It turns out to be because the CIA is not allowed to operate on American soil except when working with a domestic agency, so literally her only purpose on the team is to be present and allow them to use the loophole.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Alejandro arriving just in time to stop Ted from strangling Kate to death can be either this or a Villainous Rescue, depending on your viewpoint.
  • Big Fancy House: Fausto Alarcon's villa. Not only it is big but it has a typical millionaire vibe with the golden theme permeating its halls.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: It is shown that drug lords, such as Fausto Alarcon, kidnap, kill and mutilate people on both sides of the border to inspire fear and maintain control, but Matt and his team are not above shooting cartel sicarios in public or using torture to bring down the Sonora cartel. It toes the line with their overall goal, restoring power to the Medellin cartel, as the CIA believes the cartels will never be totally rid of - and it's thus better to install a puppet cartel that can regulate the crime rate and war.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Kate holds this viewpoint early on, believing that she is on the good side of the War on Drugs. Events conspire to knock that viewpoint out of her by the end.
  • Blackmail: After the mission is over, Kate is forced by Alejandro to sign a waiver saying that the mission was accomplished legally. Kate only relents when Alejandro threatens her life at gunpoint.
  • Booby Trap: The Chandler, Arizona raid leads to the team finding corpses in the walls inside the house. Naturally, the team becomes curious at what horrors the shed outside the house contains, but such investigation leads to triggering an explosion that blows up two police officers.
  • Broken Pedestal: Reggie considered Ted as a friend. He is understandably not happy when he learns that he is a Dirty Cop and that he was sent to murder Kate.
  • Bulletproof Vest: All of the Delta operators sport them in the field, as do Kate and Reggie. The latter two are even shown loading ceramic plates into their vests. Alejandro later shoots Kate in the vest to knock her down without heavily injuring her, and it's shown realistically - Kate is left desperately gasping for air and injured enough to have to stay out of the fight.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Matt Graver immediately stands out because of his sandals, casual clothing and equally casual attitude. He acts more like a teenage slacker than a veteran federal employee. Turns out he's a ruthlessly effective CIA officer, as capable a killer as the Delta operators. Graver reveals his true nature to Kate at the tunnel raid, easily overpowering her and explaining his morally ambiguous plan for 'stabilizing' the War on Drugs.
  • The Cartel: The Mexican Sonora cartel are the main antagonists.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Alejandro has one on a plane.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The pink-and-blue armband used by Manuel Diaz to roll his money. When Kate sees the same armband on Ted's keychain, she realises that he is under Manuel's payroll.
    • Alejandro warns Kate that she should not trust the Mexican police. A patrol car is seen tailing the convoy shortly before the crossing, then one member of the Mexican convoy tries to kill Kate during the shootout.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: Matt is eventually revealed to work for the CIA and he uses underhanded and illegal methods to get his way, while Kate and Reggie work for the FBI and try to follow protocol.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture:
    • Whatever Alejandro does to Guillermo to loosen his tongue, it sure does not sound pretty. Savvy viewers will pick up on the implication of waterboarding.
    • His torture of Ted happens mostly offscreen, but we do see Alejandro roughing him up a bit and giving him a wet willie, which causes him a lot of pain.
  • Crapsack World: Life on the U.S.-Mexico border is depicted as being dreary and dangerous (especially in Juarez), where the cops are either corrupt or fighting dirty in the War on Drugs and the drug lords are eager to kill men, women, and children to keep control of the supply.
    Alejandro: This is the land of wolves now.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: A given, considering its a film revolving around the cartel, but the death of Alejandro's daughter particularly stands out: she was apparently dropped into a vat of acid.
  • Curbstomp Battle: The shootout in the border crossing between the CIA convoy and cartel gunmen ends quickly and decisively in the CIA's favor, with no casualties whatsoever.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Defied; Alejandro kills Fausto's wife and children before he kills him.
  • Dead Guy on Display: On their way to Juarez, the convoy witnesses mutilated bodies hanging from the overpass, as a message of who the people should fear and respect.
  • Dictionary Opening: The film opens with a black screen explaining in text what "sicario" means (it comes from a fanatical sect of Jews who knifed Roman occupiers and their collaborators in Judea, and it has come to mean "hitman" in Mexico).
  • Dirty Cop:
    • Ted on the American side of the border, Silvio on the Mexican side of the border.
    • Ted mentions that other cops in his department are under the cartel's payroll.
    • During the initial crossing to Juarez, Alejandro warns Kate not to trust the Mexican police force. Sure enough, during the shootout at the border crossing, a Mexican SWAT member attempts to kill Kate behind her back, but she ducks out of the way in time and shoots back at him.
    • Silvio is revealed to be a mule for the Sonora cartel, transporting drugs in his police car.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Invoked by Matt when he explains that his plan is to "dramatically overreact" against the cartel. Subverted in that this is how law enforcement agencies always react when their officers are killed, and in this case two were in the shed explosion at the beginning of the film, to deter future targeting of police.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Ultimately subverted. As Alejandro is leaving her apartment after blackmailing her into signing the waiver, Kate storms out on her balcony and holds him at gunpoint, ready to shoot. However, Kate still holds onto her ideals and can't bring herself to shoot Alejandro, since it would constitute a crime. She resignedly and tearfully lowers her gun as Alejandro walks away.
  • Downer Ending: Possibly the darkest ending out of all of Denis Villeneuve's movies. Kate is left broken and devastated by the horrors she has witnessed and the treachery she has been a part of against her will while Matt and Alejandro do not face consequences for their illegal and immoral actions, which include murdering a cartel jefe and his family as well as a Mexican cop who had a family. Meanwhile, nothing has changed at the border and Juarez is still a Crapsack World where a soccer game is interrupted by gunfire and passersby react merely by turning a blind eye after a moment of surprise, highlighting the fact that they have come to accept the violence as their reality.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Matt and co. pull in a team of Delta Force guys to their operation, fresh out of Afghanistan. And Matt and Steve are heavily implied to be part of the CIA's Special Activities Division.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Inverted in a memorable scene, where a group of Deltas with nightvision goggles silhouetted against the fading dusk march into the darkness. Their silhouettes slowly lower as they walk forwards, until they disappear into the darkness.
  • Enemy Civil War: Once Cartel leader Diaz is extradited, the various cartel factions in Juarez descend into vicious street fighting, which Kate grimly observes from the safety of El Paso.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Following the opening SWAT raid, one of Kate's agents asks her what his response to the district attorney should be for his statement. Her reply is "The truth". Establishing her as a By-the-Book Cop and someone who inspires loyalty in those under her command.
    • Matt is shown in flip flops and very casual wear amongst a conference table full of suited and square FBI agents. His confident tone and how the meeting defers to him means he is definitely not law enforcement.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Both Fausto Alarcon and Manuel Diaz are shown to have families that they care about. Fausto in particular is clearly shattered into near catatonia when Alejandro murders his family before his eyes.
    • Silvio is a downplayed example in that he is never seen doing anything evil beside acting as a mule. He loves his wife and son nevertheless.
    • Ted has a daughter from a previous marriage, information that Matt and Alejandro use when interrogating him.
    • Depending on your definition of evil, Alejandro meets a Mexican prosecutor from his days before being a hitman, and the two have a regret-filled but friendly interaction. If anything, all of Alejandro's actions are driven by the memory of his slain wife and child.
  • Exact Words: When he realises that Alejandro really intends to kill him, Fausto Alarcon requests not to be killed in front of his sons. Alejandro complies... by killing his sons and his wife first.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Fausto Alarcon quickly deduces that Alejandro is not there to arrest him or negotiate. His only request is not to do it in front of his boys. Unfortunately for him Alejandro uses his Exact Words and kills his wife and son in front of him. Alarcon is clearly horrified by this and just calmly awaits his turn.
  • Family-Values Villain: Despite being the Big Bad of the movie what little we see of Fausto Alarcon he seems to be a devoted husband and father.
  • Forever War: Matt and Alejandro point out to Kate that the War on Drugs will never end until the demand for them in the US goes away. Until then, the best they can do is keep the chaos contained by propping up drug cartels that are under the CIA's control.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Fausto Alarcon tries one on Alejandro, giving him a "Not So Different" Remark about some of the tactics employed by the authorities that the cartels later adopted for themselves. Alejandro is having none of it and shoots Alarcon's wife and kids, then him.
  • Heroic BSoD: Kate is left feeling broken and betrayed after the movie's events. There's a small flicker of this in Alejandro during Kate's own BSOD, however — when Kate has him at gunpoint, he simply stands there, a resigned look on his face. He'd be fine with getting killed either way.
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted. The wounds Kate and Dave take early on from the IED leave them with cuts and bruises for the rest of the film.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: When Kate has the opportunity to shoot Alejandro in cold blood for forcing her to betray her morals, she ultimately can't bring herself to do it since it would make her no better than him. She is still very much torn up about it, though.
  • I Have a Family: What Silvio tells Alejandro when he hijacks him at gunpoint. His family clearly does not live in the same luxury as Manuel Diaz and Fausto Alarcon's families do, not that this saves him.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Infuriated by Matt's decision not to arrest Manuel Diaz for money laundering and their boss's inaction, Kate and Reggie go to a local bar to drink beer and forget their day.
  • Insistent Terminology: Matt, Steve, and Alejandro are "DoD advisors."
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Matt and Alejandro's specialty when garnering information.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When they arrest one of the cartel's mules depositing money at the bank, Kate decides to go inside to question the bank staff. Matt advises against it. She ends up having her face recorded on the CCTV cameras inside. The cartel use this to send Ted, the Phoenix PD officer on their payroll, to go after her, seduce her, and try to kill her.
    • Dave Jennings, Kate's FBI superior, points out to her that technically depositing $9000 a day into a bank account is not illegal, as the limit at which the IRS has to be notified is $10,000.
    • Matt points out that as long as 20% of Americans are using drugs there will always be people fighting to supply them and stabilizing the market is better than a power vacuum.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Although Alejandro is the titular sicario, he refers to himself as a prosecutor. He technically was a lawyer.
  • Jump Scare: The sound of Alejandro swiftly executing Alarcon's wife and kids will have you flinching and/or jumping the same way it had Alarcon, especially considering how dead silent the scene was beforehand.
  • Jumped at the Call: As soon as Kate has the opportunity to punish the man responsible for the House of Horrors, she agrees unhesitatingly.
  • Karma Houdini: Matt, Steve, and Alejandro get off scot-free for all of the illegal and ethically questionable things they have done throughout the film.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Benicio del Toro's role in the film is pretty small until the third act, where it becomes clear that he's been the moving force behind the entire plan of the film, and is the titular sicario. The original poster conceals this development nicely by placing him amidst the other characters on more or less equal ground. The Region 1 DVD case not only puts del Toro directly underneath the title, but makes his picture larger and at the apex of a triangle with the two other mains.
  • Loophole Abuse: Matt, who is actually a CIA spook, cannot operate on American soil... unless his team is working in conjunction with a domestic agency. He really only needs Kate in his team to abuse that loophole.
  • The Lost Lenore: Alejandro's wife.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: At the end, when Alejandro tells Kate she "would be committing suicide" if she does not sign the document. He's holding her own gun, wearing a glove, and pressing the gun to her chin in a direction mimicking the position someone would take to shoot themselves in the head. He can make her death look like a suicide, very easily.
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted with Matt and Kate. Big time.
  • Mole in Charge: The objective is to use Alejandro to restore the defunct Medellin Cartel as the sole controller of the drugs trade, and thus restore the drugs trade to a measure of control.
  • Never My Fault: Fausto Alarcon refuses to accept any real responsibility for what he did to Alejandro, instead blaming the world they live in and giving him a "it was Nothing Personal" explanation.
    Alejandro: For me it is.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • We don't see what Alejandro does to make Guillermo talk; the camera instead cuts to a push-in shot of the drain in the room with choking noises in the background.
    • The tunnel sequence.
    • Alejandro's slow search of the mansion for Fausto.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Kate for Alejandro. He frequently checks in on her over the course of the movie, saves her life when she's nearly choked to death by Ted, and mentions later that she reminds him of his daughter. This doesn't stop him threatening her life if she refuses to sign the affadavit, however, demonstrating just how far over the line he's gone in his pursuit of revenge.
  • Nothing Personal: Fausto Alarcon views the murder of Alejandro's wife and daughter this way. Alejandro disagrees. Vehemently.
  • One-Liner, Name... One-Liner: Matt when announcing the rules of engagement before they enter the tunnel.
    Matt: Weapons free, my friend. Weapons free.
  • Out of Character Is Serious Business: When Matt stops being jovial and starts getting serious, it's a sign that something has gone wrong.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The CIA operatives and Delta operators justify their actions by pointing out their targets are the equally ruthless Mexican drug cartels.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Alejandro obtains Manuel Diaz's collaboration by threatening to have his daughters raped by 20 men.
  • The Reveal: The CIA's plan is to use Alejandro to break up the Mexican cartels and restore the Medellin Cartel as the sole controller of the drugs trade and establish a measure of control they can regulate. The sheer demand and size of the drugs trade mean the war on drugs can never really end.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Alejandro's motive all along. He seeks retribution against drug lord Fausto Alarcon for murdering his wife and daughter.
  • Scenery Porn: Despite the grim subject, the film puts a good amount of emphasis into capturing the arid beauty of the US-Mexico border. Pretty much a Roger Deakins trademark.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Kate on the movie poster.
  • Seen It All: Alejandro seems familiar with everyone's tactics, and sports a world-weary posture.
  • Shower of Angst: After the bust at the House of Horrors, Kate is seen taking a shower at her apartment to clean herself of her own blood after the explosion.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Kate's idealistic view on the War on Drugs gets trampled relentlessly throughout the movie as she bears witness to the horrors of the cartels and the underhanded (and blatantly illegal) methods used by Matt and Alejandro to stop (actually, to control) them.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Far on the cynicism side. Life across the border is depicted as dangerous and grim due to the cartels' violent actions, kids aren't spared from this violence, law enforcers are either on the cartels' payroll or are fighting them with similar violence, and the few idealistic law enforcers are constantly belittled or eventually corrupted with violence. The ending scene even shows that Mexicans have come to accept violence as their reality and just turn a blind eye to it all, and that nothing at all has changed, even though one Cartel has been taken down.
  • Steel Ear Drums:
    • Reg is standing maybe 50 feet from a tremendous explosion near the beginning of the film. Kate is even closer, though partially protected by the building she's standing in. Neither of them show any signs of even temporary hearing loss.
    • Also, the ear-friendly shootout in the tunnel.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The shed in the backyard of the House of Horrors explodes when cops try to open a trapdoor. The conflagration kills two cops.
  • Stupid Evil: Dirty Cop Ted who, despite knowing he's screwed with no legal leg to stand on, keeps blubbering about how he screwed up, making excuses, and keeps getting beat up and tortured by Alejandro instead of simply answering their questions at first.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Kate is tough, but is overpowered in two fights. In the first, she's very drunk and knocked off balance. In the second, even after she gives a good punch to Matt, she's just been shot twice in the chest (saved by a bulletproof vest, but still winded and likely heavily bruised, if not with cracked ribs) and is much smaller than him, so after the first hit, the larger and uninjured Matt easily gets her in a disabling grapple.
    • A bulletproof vest can stop the killing wound of a bullet, but not the impact and the force behind it. When Kate gets shot in her vest by Alejandro, she has no actual injuries but is still visibly gasping and winded and can barely stand up.
    • The shootout in the bridge finishes immediately in the CIA's favor. The CIA guys never let their guard down during the whole ride, and upon spotting the cartel hitmen, they simply storm out and cut them down.
    • Fausto Alarcon asks Alejandro to spare his family. He doesn't, because Alejandro is a sicario, not a cop.
    • However badly she despises the man, Kate cannot shoot Alejandro in the back. That would be murder, first-degree, and she can't claim self-defense in doing so.
    • Alarcon, faced with Alejandro pointing a gun at both him and his family, tries to (in a very high-handed way) use the logic he uses to justify his lifestyle to himself on a man whose life he ruined and family he had murdered.
  • Sunshine Noir: It takes place mostly in bright sun or at least broad daylight in arid desert environments at the U.S./Mexican border (except for the last quarter or so, particularly the tunnel sequence, which takes place on a dark night), and yet it's as bleak and complex as many good Film Noir examples.
  • SWAT Team: FBI Agents Kate and Reggie accompany a Phoenix Police Department SWAT Team to the Chandler, Arizona safehouse raid at the beginning of the movie.
  • The Cartel: The main antagonists in the film work for the Sonora Cartel, with Manuel Diaz being their senior operative based in the United States, and Fausto Alarcon being a high ranking lieutenant who is responsible for the death of of Alejandro's family.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The cartel thugs who try to ambush the prison convoy crossing the border. The Deltas instantly see through the trap and give the thugs a chance to surrender. The thugs instead try and draw their weapons despite being in an unfavorable position and get slaughtered as a result.
  • Trophy Wife: Averted. Fausto Alarcon defies a lot of drug lord stereotypes and has a wife who, while certainly attractive, appears to be about the same age as he is and old enough to be the mother of teenage boys meaning she’s probably their birth mother and they’ve been married a long time.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Kate's storyline is intercut with that of a Mexican cop named Silvio.
  • Villain Has a Point: Alarcon is probably absolutely correct that Alejandro's wife would never be proud of what he's become.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Alarcon has a silent one after Alejandro murders his wife and children.
  • Vomiting Cop: Kate and her colleagues are seen throwing up onscreen after discovering the corpses hidden behind the drywall of a suburban house.
  • Wham Shot: When Kate sees the pink-and-blue armband on Ted's keychain.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Steve acts as Matt's number two for the operation in El Paso and Juarez, but disappears from the picture after the plot leaves the cities.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Alejandro shoots and kills Fausto Alarcon's wife and 2 children at the dinner table before killing him. He also threatens to have Manuel Diaz's daughters raped by 20 men if he doesn't comply with his demands.
    • Fausto Alarcon himself had no problem killing Alejandro's daughter by having her thrown in a vat of acid.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Alejandro kills both Silvio and Manuel once he no longer needs them to infiltrate Fausto's mansion.
  • You Killed My Father: Alejandro's motive to go after Fausto Alarcon is because he murdered his wife and daughter.
  • You Remind Me of X: Alejandro tells Kate that she reminds him of someone who meant a lot to him. At the end, he reveals Kate reminds him of his daughter. Yes, a child in a barrel of acid.