Film Festival Today

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Written by: Alyssa | October 3rd, 2015

A sharp, uncompromising thriller and Benicio Del Toro gets his own franchise.


The film starts with the etymology of the word ‘sicario’. It begins with the word’s origin in ancient Roman history (actually, it’s the legal Latin standard plural form of the term for a murderer) and finally as the word is currently in use as slang for ‘Hitman’.


Judas “Iscariot” identified Judas as a member of the sicarii. These were a cadre of assassins among Jewish rebels intent on driving the Romans out of Judea. They did not have last names back then. The word “Iscariot” could have meant the place of his birth. Revisionist religious scholars be damned!


Why not reference this? Is there sensitivity to Judas Iscariot now?

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve delivers a totally enthralling, smart thriller that may have more influence than any ideology or scheme to end the drug trade from Mexico into the U.S.

FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) joins a raid of a suspected drug lord’s “safe house” in Phoenix. This is no “knock and wait” to be invited in. They take a monster, fortified van and go right through the front of the house. Macer goes into a bedroom and bullets miss her. She kills the guy. There are 42 bodies rotting in the house.

Macer’s heroism is rewarded by being asked to join a super-secret, wiggly task force under no discernible agency to root out the drug lord behind the drug lord. Reminds me of Philo of Alexandria, who said: “God is the “Intelligible Sun – the “Sun behind the sun.”

The head of this inter-agency taskforce is Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Macer is chosen over her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) since he has a law degree. On a private jet, Macer meets Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). He seems to have no affiliation. All he will tell Macer is he goes where he is paid to go.

Why was she chosen over Wayne, what is her role, what is the mission and where are they going? No one bothers to tell her anything. Macer is only told to make note of everything she sees. So highly trained FBI agent Macer is carried along as the team kills a lot of people and finally gets to take the first drug lord for interrogation to find the top drug lord.

Getting the drug lord was easy since they did not follow any police procedure and did not have to fill out any forms. Taking him across the border into the U.S. is where they expect trouble.

And they do. Instead of clearing the traffic, the parade of black SUVs become encircled by the drug lord’s sicarii.

Finally, Graver tells Macer what the objective of their mission: to cause chaos in the drug lord’s operation – major chaos – forcing the wealthy cartel head to come to Mexico and straighten things out himself. Then they will get the drug lord behind the drug lord. But first they have to find interrogate the drug lord to find the “smuggling tunnel”.

This is what Graver does. His modus operando is to “dramatically overreact” and be more ruthless than the Mexican cartel.

Supremely ruthless is Alejandro, who doesn’t exactly mentor Macer but is the only one who will give some sage advice.

Finally Macer comes to understand why she was chosen and what her part in the task force was.

The most important “message” of the film is an off-hand remark by Graver, explaining the objective of what he does. I cannot find the quote online, but it’s something like this: When 20% of Americans stop wanting this stuff, we’ll stop.”

Right now it’s a seller’s market. We want drugs. We want heroin, cocaine, and meth.

According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and European crime-fighting agency Europol, the annual global drugs trade is worth around $435 billion a year, with the annual cocaine trade worth $84 billion.

Globally, organized crime accounts for 1.5 percent of global gross domestic product and is worth around $870 billion and of that, drugs account for 50 percent of international organized crime income. Reported by CNBC on August 13, 2013.

Trying to destroy production and distribution has shown to be impossible – there is just too much money to be made. Doesn’t anyone have another approach? Education on the dangers of drugs? That hasn’t stopped anything – according to the statistics. How about getting pharmaceutical scientists to develop something that is safe, dirt cheap and lasts just 20 minutes – to satisfy people’s need for these substances. It’s a brain thing.

Stopping the flow of drugs that people want only creates imaginative ways to produce it. The “Nazi method”* of manufacturing methamphetamine uses the lithium strips taken from CR123 and other lithium batteries. (The other three ingredients are ether, pseudo-ephedrine, and anhydrous ammonia.)

Will the restrictions currently in place on the sale of cold medications containing pseudo-ephedrine migrate to the sale of lithium batteries?

The most startling thing about Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is the uncompromising character of Alejandro. Del Toro does not fall into the trap of playing a typical bad guy. Or a bad guy with the good reason he falls back on as a justification for his actions. He’s not dark or menacing. He just is doing his job. When he gets his revenge, it’s startling. Especially since Graver and his employers know exactly what he will do and they want him to do it.

As an indication of how this character galvanizes SICARIO, Lionsgate is already developing a sequel that centers on the mysterious assassin played by Benicio Del Toro. Variety report that Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the crime thriller, is overseeing the project, and director Denis Villeneuve is involved — although it’s unknown at this point whether he’ll helm the film.

Benicio Del Toro has his franchise!

*”Pseudephedrine allows manufacture of methamphetamine using the “Nazi method,” so-called because it was first used by Germany during World War II. The Nazi method produces relatively pure meth very quickly – in about three hours, compared to ephedrine reduction, which takes several days.”

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Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at

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