This review is of the TV-14 edited version of the film. All thoughts should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative
It’s time for a very gritty look at what it can be like to try and stop a force as powerful as the cartels. It’s a tough reality that in some areas the police basically have no power and so everyone operates under the books in a society where might makes right. The main character learns this the hard way and while it can be a reminder how your life could always be more difficult, it doesn’t make for a great film. The excessive violence eventually knocks the fun out of the experience.
The movie starts with Kate and her partner Reggie arriving at a house where they take down the villains but unfortunately were too late to save the innocents. The building is filled with the bodies of everyone that they murdered and Kate feels rather hollow about this victory. The government calls her in though because this was traced to the Mexican cartels. They are sending in a task force to basically cause a lot of commotion and take these guys out at any cost. Kate decides to join in because she wants to see justice done but she’s about to see that “Justice” is going to encompass a whole lot of actions here. It’s not quite like any of her previous missions up til now.
Shortly after entering Mexico the main characters have their first gunfight which quickly gets you up to speed on how you really need to keep your guard up at all times. You always have to watch your back and even be staring inside the other cars because if you react late then your life is already over. You have to basically make the first move or be ready to make a move before the shooting actually begins. It’s certainly a tense atmosphere and as Alejandro tells Kate you can’t even trust your own allies. You never know who has been bought off or defected to the other side so at the end of the day you can only really trust yourself.
I’d say it takes a whole lot of grit in order to be able to survive in an atmosphere like this for even just a short while. For the members here who have been in the territory for years, well that’s not something that just anyone can do. Additionally the characters do resort to torture and other extreme methods in order to get answers which also requires a tough stomach. I’m still never on board with torture though even if it can be the only way to get results. It just feels like a line where once you cross it, you become one of the villains even if it’s for a noble cause. It’s just going too extreme even if it helps to serve your cause.
That’s one of the main struggles for Kate in this film as she just doesn’t agree with how extreme everything is here. You have people going on revenge missions and everyone is really using everyone else. This mission only works because some goals temporarily align but what happens when they don’t? You’re always having to keep score of whose interests are being served and that’s exhausting. Unfortunately Kate’s ways of coping with this aren’t always great.
The worst scene of this is when she decides to get drunk with the crew and then have an affair with someone that she’d never met before. Naturally he turned out to be one of the gang members and she’s very lucky that Alejandro showed up in time or she would have been dead. It just seemed very sloppy though. You’re effectively in enemy territory for all intents and purposes so now isn’t the time to be having a one night stand. For the most part she didn’t panic and make many bad moves during the film so this one really stood out. The only other moment was randomly attacking Matt in a fit of rage.
Sure he was complicit in knowing what Alejandro was doing but suddenly attacking him like that could have easily gotten her shot. She’s lucky that things didn’t get worse there. Meanwhile Matt does a pretty good job here. He is sort of like a less personally invested version of Alejandro. The guy is a capable field leader and knows how to fight but to him it’s still a job while to Alejandro it’s really his life. That’s a world of difference when going up against enemies in Mexico because you’re going to take less risks. Matt basically plays things by the (underworld) book and it all works out pretty well for him as a result.
As for Alejandro, he does well here. The guy definitely does have a big revenge motive but considering what the cartel did to his family you can definitely understand where he is coming from. It certainly doesn’t make him a hero and is why he can so ruthlessly torture anyone in his way but it does give him drive. You don’t want to mess with this guy because he does not mind collateral damage. The whole final scene is basically about how he has become the very kind of guy he has spent his life destroying. At this point he’s completely gone down the rabbit hole. It makes him an interesting Punisher type of main character to follow but certainly someone that you would consider to be another villain in the grand scheme of things. His crimes against humanity would be guilty under any court which is why he needs fake reports and such saying he is innocent. Not that the government is likely to openly mess with him either way but he doesn’t want to be vanished either.
Finally you have Kate’s partner Reggie who does a good job here. He basically pushed himself back into the mix to watch Kate’s back and he also makes sure that they get some answers. He’s not someone that you can just push around and I thought that he did a good job of backing her up. SO he fulfilled his objectives but ultimately he can only go so far here and a lot of the time Kate does have to be on her own
Ultimately I would believe this to be a very fair depiction of events in many war torn areas. It just make sense that you would see both sides breaking all sorts of unspoken rules of engagement and framing each other constantly. In any sort of battle with a gang, cartel, or some kind of corrupt government where you can’t count on a system to back you up then naturally you are going to turn to less desirable ways of completing your objectives. That’s just how it is but on the other hand the film could have definitely toned down some of it and made the movie more enjoyable. Remove the torture, more of the close up violence/aftermath, etc. At the end of the day you don’t get to be entertained here for very long before something drastic happens again and so it’s a fairly painful cycle of events. It’s definitely not a movie that has a whole lot of replay value.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend checking out Sicario. It’s certainly a movie about perpetuating the cycle of violence to keep everyone busy which means while there are some winners there will always be losers as well. In a fight like this there will always be a lot of casualties and so it’s the innocent people in the middle who really end up getting squashed. Complex global issues like this will never have a clean solution where everyone triumphs but you always hope to try and minimize the casualties as best you can. The very last scene is definitely depressing when you think about it.