Rarely do we give away the entire plot of a novel or film except for two reasons: (1) the plot is so intricate most viewers miss more than half the film even after multiple viewings or (2) the plot has nothing to do with the synopsis or trailers. Sicario is a beautifully-crafted tale with so much detail even after several viewings you’ve probably missed a lot. 10 out of 10 stars. Screenwriter: Taylor Sheridan.
An FBI raid of a known Mexican drug cartel hideout ends in two dead police officers and the discovery of more than fifty dead bodies hidden in the walls of the house, victims of the Sonora Cartel. One of the members of that team, Kate, is an idealistic young woman determined to avenge the deaths of those officers.
Kate’s boss at the FBI proposes that she join a joint task force led by DOD consultant Matt Graver. She knows about Manuel Diaz, the man who owns the Chandler cartel house hidden behind several shell companies. They fill her in on why Manuel is important to them–(1) Manuel is the leader of the Sonora drug cartel in the US, (2) his brother Guilermo is high up in the cartel on the Mexican side of the border, and (3) Manuel’s cousin Fausto El Arcon is the number three guy of the entire Sonora cartel. The plan is to bring Guillermo in for questioning in El Paso, Texas.
El Paso, Texas
Two days later Kate meets Matt at a Phoenix air force base and they fly to El Paso with another DOD advisor on board, Alejandro. In El Paso they get into a black SUV with Matt and another man who tells Matt he’s assembled a crack team for their mission. Then they join a caravan of black SUVs and drive across the border into Juarez City, Mexico. Upon entering Mexico, the Mexican Federal Police (aka federales) escort them to their target. Alejandro warns her that the federales are not always the good guys and to be careful. They drive by streets with naked mutilated and decapitated bodies hanging from overpasses (similar to the May 4, 2012 hangings in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico just across the border) and they hear gunshots in the neighborhoods they pass through. They stop at a warehouse and the combat team rushes inside, leaving Kate, Matt, and Alejandro in the SUV. When they return they have someone, Guillermo Diaz, and they rush back toward the US border. On the way back through customs they are stopped by traffic on our side of the border. Alejandro tells her this is where they’ll strike them. Two vehicles with drug cartel members and heavy firepower approach them, but this is a crack team and they exit the vehicle and take out the cartel members before they can kill anyone. There are no civilian casualties. A federale comes up behind Kate, but she ducks before he can shoot her then she kills him.
Kate is angry that she was misled about the intent of the task force. They crossed over into Mexican soil and they weren’t supposed to. Her boss tells her that this task force came from the highest source, someone elected not appointed, meaning the President. He tells her all of their actions have already been sanctioned. When she asks Alejandro who he is he tells her he was a prosecutor in Juarez but now he works in Cartagena, so she surmises that he works for the Colombian drug cartel, but the DOD has chosen him to be on their task force.
El Paso, Texas
Under torture, Guillermo tells Alejandro and Matt about a tunnel from Nogales to Tucson that they use to smuggle cocaine and cartel members into the US. They have less than two days to find it before it moves.
Matt and Alejandro take the team to Tucson, Arizona to the detainee center where they have busloads of illegals who’ve just crossed the border from Mexico. They question the ones who were picked up near Nogales, Arizona which is just this side of the border from Nogales, Mexico. One of these men points out on a map exactly where the tunnel is, the entrance marked by an abandoned car. They confirm the location with satellite photos and there is the abandoned car.
Matt freezes Miguel Diaz’s drug money, the cartel’s money, in hopes of making Fausto angry enough to recall Diaz back to Mexico. They wait in a van for Diaz’s money launderer to make the daily $9,000 cash deposit into his accounts. These deposits, because they are under $10,000, are never reported and are made daily by the cartel. They grab the money launderer after she makes the deposits and freeze all of his accounts. It’s a temporary measure because apparently this isn’t breaking any laws, but it will achieve their objective–getting Diaz called back to Mexico.
After they grab the cartel’s money launderer leaving the bank, Kate goes inside the bank to gather evidence against Diaz against Matt’s orders. By now she’s figured out that Matt is CIA and it’s illegal for the CIA to operate within the US borders. She learns from the FBI’s money guy that Diaz took out several small loans and has repaid much more than the loan amount. Repayments over the loan amount create a negative loan balance, but they are not reported to the government as suspicious nor are they reported as taxable income. So this money is completely tax free and is over $17 million. When Kate approaches her boss about prosecuting Diaz for the money he tells her it won’t stick because it’s not a crime to overpay your loans. He also tells her all of their work, though legal, hasn’t affected any change in the war on drugs. But Matt’s methods have made a huge dent in it.
Kate and her FBI partner go to a bar where he introduces her to Ted, his friend and a Phoenix police officer. She takes Ted home for sex and after he takes his keys out of his pocket, she sees a rubber band, exactly like the bands used on the cartel’s money, tangled in his keys. She pulls her gun on him and he knocks it out of her hands and beats her. She fights back and he strangles her almost to death, stopped only because Alejandro miraculously appears. Kate learns from Matt and Alejandro that she was put on the Sonora cartel’s hit list the moment she walked into the bank. Once you’re on their hit list you never get off. That’s why Matt told her not to go inside. Matt and Alejandro question/torture Ted and get a list of names of all of the corrupt US officers and officials being paid for by the Sonora cartel.
A new combat team is assembled to attack the tunnel as soon as Diaz is called back to Mexico by Fausto. One half of the team is watching satellite footage of Diaz and following him, the other half is waiting near the entrance to the tunnel in Nogales, Arizona. When the combat team is told to create a loud diversion for the real mission and Matt never reveals the “real mission” she suspects it’s Alejandro. Diaz leaves for Mexico and their half of the team enters the tunnels. She is told to stay in the back and follow Matt’s team. She watches them kill all of the cartel members in the tunnel then follows Alejandro down the main tunnel when the rest of the team corners a group in the left tunnel. When she exits the tunnel in Mexico and sees Alejandro holding a Mexican police officer at gunpoint she pulls a gun on him and tries to stop him. He shoots her twice in the bulletproof vest.
The other half of the team feeds Alejandro Diaz’s location and he forces the cop to drive him to Diaz and pull him over on a bogus traffic stop. He kills the cop and shoots Diaz in the knee so he can’t run. Then he gets in Diaz’s car and uses Diaz to get into Fausto’s compound past security, killing everyone he encounters. The satellite team tells him where everyone is in the compound and he picks them off one at a time until only Fausto and his family are left. Fausto remembers Alejandro and that he decapitated Alejandro’s wife and threw his daughter in a vat of acid. He doesn’t apologize and insults Alejandro, so Alejandro kills his two sons and his wife. Then he kills Fausto and leaves.
By now Kate has rejoined Matt’s group and tells him she’s going to report him for all the laws he’s broken. The next morning Alejandro is waiting for her inside her apartment. He holds a gun to her head forcing her to sign a revised report stating that everything went by the book. He takes the report with him and warns her to move to a small town where the law still exists.
Buried within Kate’s story is the story of the Nogales, Mexico cop who works for Fausto. He has a son and a wife and his life is pretty bleak. There’s no money in Mexico and this was the only job that protected his family while providing for them. His name is Silvio and he’s the officer Alejandro shoots at the end.
10 out of 10 stars. This is one of those beautifully-written stories that keeps revealing more and more each time you watch it. And yes, the cartel is more vicious than they showed on film.