This is a Land of Wolves Now in Sicario

Sicario Poster

In Roman ruled Judea, Jewish zealots used daggers hidden in cloaks to kill their oppressors and were thus dubbed in Latin…”Sicarious”…or dagger men.  Though most of the killing in Denis Villeneuve’s latest master class in vexatious suspense is done with machine guns, there’s a climax building scene where cinematographer god Roger Deakins photographs the character Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) descending into the purple-hued darkness of a drug tunnel as he unsheathes a dagger that will make your skin scrawl.

Alejandro is man of mysterious motives and origins who with the aid of another “DOD consultant” – an eager and smiley Josh Brolin – is determined to ruffle some feathers of a cartel based in Juarez that’s been wreaking havoc as far north as Phoenix, where kidnap retrieval field agent Kate (a tense Emily Blunt) has been recently recruited for these clandestine missions after uncovering a cartel body-dump on her home turf.  Meanwhile on the other side of the border, mild-mannered and weary cop Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez) tries to balance playing football with his adoring son with the unfortunate mechanics of working for the cartel from hell.

Though directed with a psychoanalyst eye by the notoriously cold Villeneuve, his interpretation of Taylor Sheridan’s taut screenplay surprisingly humanizes both sides of the drug war – with a keen awareness of the innocent bystanders as witnessed in the film’s chilling but mundane closing moments in Juarez (whose details will not be revealed here).  Those well versed in Villeneuve’s increasingly impressive oeuvre (especially those who suffered through the torturous though still artful Incendies) won’t be surprised when Alejandro’s motives are revealed, nor in his calculated and merciless actions.  But this meta-knowledge of the artist behind the entertainment doesn’t stop Sicario from being a white-knuckle reality-based creep-out think-piece, made all the more important as it fictionalizes current perils.  And Alejandro sums it up well to Kate when he tells her, “this is a land of wolves now” – a land he helped create and populate.

Sicario Roger Deakins

With Deakin’s cinematography setting new standards for menacing sunsets, aerial shots that make Mexico’s landscape look like an alien world riddled with danger, and night-vision raids…while Johann Johannsson’s pulse-pounding score sticks in your throat…Villeneuve is once again (as has become his calling card) able to ratchet up the suspense and let his actors strut their stuff.  The film is bleak, yes, but also not to be missed for these fantastically orchestrated set-pieces where every element comes together in an artful irresolution meant to mirror the real world where the brutal drug war wages on with no end in sight.

Written by David H. Schleicher


  1. This movie is on my list of to-see movies. I love Del Toro and Blunt, so I’m looking forward to seeing their work. Thanks for heightening my anticipation with your post, David!

      • I saw Sicario on Friday and loved it. Excellent film. Highly recommend it. Made me homesick for the desert southwest where I grew up and lived for decades. The harsh, stark environment plays right into the harsh reality of the script. The heavy movie soundtrack was ominous too and added to the film’s naked reality.

        Several locale scenes were familiar to me personally. The entrance to Luke AFB on the westside of Phoenix is shown as being surrounded by stark desert, when in fact it is surrounded by heavily populated, middle class, suburban homes with trees and lawns and backyard pools. The lone bar scene at the “Wild Horse” bar in the film, is in reality the Sliver Pony Country bar in South Phoenix. I recognized it immediately because my high school buddies and I would go there for drinks and settle our bets every Friday afternoon for twenty years after our weekly golf game. Best neighborhood bar ever. And in the early-to-mid-70s, I made frequent trips to Juarez with my friends when I was stationed in the Air Force at Holloman AFB, just north of El Paso in New Mexico. While it is rougher and more dangerous now than it was 40 years ago, it still was a rough border town and corridor for drugs back then too.

        Sicario is a great movie. If you don’t like blood and guts, stay home. If you like lush, green landscapes, forget it. If you want comedy and romance, go see another film. But if you want to be seriously entertained by a film with a sharp edge, go see this film.

          • You’re welcome. I am retired and live in north central Florida now, raising beef cattle. I do miss the Sonoran desert of Arizona. A lot. The dry climate, the smell of creosote after a summer rain. Cactus everywhere. I manage to raise quite a few varieties of cactus on my place now, grown from cuttings I brought to Florida from Arizona when I moved. People said it wouldn’t grow here, too wet, but I have proven them wrong. I love cactus more than any other plants.

            I was raised in Arizona and was stationed in the military in New Mexico twice. I’ve traveled throughout both states extensively. I’ve talked to some people here who said the film’s backgrounds and landscapes were faked because nothing could look so stark as what was reflected in the movie. They wonder who would live in such a harsh environment anyway. I tell them that is what the desert southwest actually looks like and that I love it. They think I’m crazy but what do they know? They’ve never traveled outside the green southeast. 🙂

  2. Just caught this one tonight. It was like The Shining meets Traffic. Haunting, gripping and taut. Del Toro gave me the creeps while Blunt was a revelation.

    The closing scene of the boy playing soccer with gunshots in the background put me off though. Seemed like Dennis is trying too hard, craving for attention and shouting out loud from the rooftop: “Come see my work; it’s oh so arty!”

    • Prakash – whoa – Traffic meets The Shining – I love it! And I agree…I keep telling people this was made like a horror movie, and to me this is more unnerving than any ghost/supernatural tale as it is anchored in a stark, terrifying reality of drug cartels.

      I disagree, however, with you assessment of the closing shot (s) – pun intended! To me, it brought that story arc to a cohesive climax with the rest of the film and reminded us of the “human” element and lost innocence inherent in the drug war.

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