Sometimes I wonder what would scare Americans more, the myth of a hyper-competent American military industrial complex secretly plotting and scheming, or the reality of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies stumbling around in the dark like a bunch of naked people wearing roller skates.
Warning: The writing below provides plot details you may not want to read if you haven’t seen the movie yet!
The new film “Sicario,” the word for assassins in Mexican drug cartels, opts for the mythology. When an Arizona state anti-kidnapping team raids a house, they find dozens of bodies boarded up behind the walls but no sign of the hostages. To add insult to injury, an explosive then goes off and kills a handful of policemen. The U.S. government decides to throw down the gauntlet with the drug cartels responsible.
Josh Brolin plays a cliched CIA cardboard cutout who cruises into police offices wearing thong sandals and recruits the female leader of the anti-kidnapping squad. According to the film, the CIA needs a law enforcement officer attached to them in order to operate within American borders. This isn’t actually true, but makes for an interesting plot device. Emily Blunt plays the anti-kidnapping squad officer and doubles as the naive white woman who the audience is supposed to relate to and engage with as she enters the sinister dark world of Mexican drug cartels and diabolical CIA plots.
The movie is filled with wide shots of the desert in the American Southwest, and in particular of the border between the United States and Mexico, while foreboding music tells us that something really creepy is afoot. The gist of the movie is pretty silly. White America is the home of cops, soldiers, and the rule of law. Mexico is filled with scary brown people who sell drugs.
Another member of the joint inter-agency task force is Benecio Del Toro, who plays a former prosecutor from Colombia who has magically become a super-assassin and CIA bagman. The team sets out on their first mission with a crew of equally cliched Delta operators running around sporting beards, MultiCam pants, and kafiyas, which help them blend in just as badly in Mexico as in the Middle East. All of them are wearing expensive tactical gear and plate carriers which clearly don’t have plates in them. For some reason, they go into Juarez to conduct a prisoner transfer, just to bring the guy back to America and torture him for information. Now if I was a CIA guy in a black trench coat with ill intentions, I think I would have Mexicans do that for me in the Mexican prison, but hey, it’s a movie. Never mind the plot holes big enough to drive a Mack truck through.
The movie continues with heinously cheesy dialog, stilted action scenes, bad editing, and a plot that simply doesn’t make a bit of sense. The CIA’s end game is to unify the drug cartels into one mega-cartel, bringing some semblance of control and normalcy about rather than having a dozen cartels engaging in over-the-top violence. This was actually the plot of my second novel, “Target Deck,” in which there is a conspiracy to do the same, making the Sinoloa Cartel the single most powerful cartel and stomping out the Zetas and Templars. Since I used it myself, I’ll say this is an interesting plot device which makes a certain amount of sense from a pragmatic standpoint. However, the way they go about this is just off the wall unbelievable in “Sicario.”
Josh Brolin’s character has a master plan to wade into Mexico and create enough chaos amongst the cartels to have their jefe called back to his mansion where they can assassinate him. Then they can consolidate the cartels under one roof. What scares you more: the thought of CIA puppet masters or the truth that no one has a fucking clue how to actually resolve these complicated issues? Sometimes I wish there was some badass paramilitary dude out there going Mack Bolan on the baddies, because as it stands, America is just out there flapping from Iraq, to Mexico, to Ukraine, to the South China Sea.
This could have been a cool movie that explored the insider politics behind joint JSOC, CIA, and law enforcement operations as well as the dynamics of Mexican drug cartels, but the movie seemed to have given up on that and opted for a dumbed-down typical Hollywood drama that comes of as flat-out bizarre.