Maybe Sicario is not a car movie, but it is a movie with one of the most dramatically tense first acts that slowly builds up to a convoy sequence through Juarez, Mexico that you will never forget, in one of the best movies of the decade.
(Welcome back to Jalopnik Movie Club, where we take a look at cars in movies and movies about cars, and you write in with all of your hot takes. This week, we’re reviewing Sicario, a movie about being careful about the people you pick up in a bar, the nightmarish wrath of drug cartels, and the strategic vacuum of morality within the U.S. intelligence agencies!)
Sicario is a 2015 movie starring Emily Blunt as an FBI agent looking to take down the Mexican cartels that are believed to be behind the increasing violence along the southern U.S. border. She volunteers to tag along with a mysterious government agent and a suspicious former Mexican prosecutor, and is dragged into a plot of secrecy and corruption that quickly spirals out of her control.
Sicario is a car movie if you are the sort of person who really likes police cars, because they make up almost every car featured. But the entire first 40 minutes of the movie is perfectly crafted to ratchet up tension and suspense for the characters’ first major retaliation against the Mexican cartels, leading to a stunning sequence where the team’s convoy gets trapped in gridlock at the border, surrounded by armed men.
The scene involves the team entering Juarez, Mexico in five seemingly unarmored black Chevy Tahoes, immediately highlighting them as high profile targets for cartel spotters on the other side of the border. Once in Juarez, the team is met by a fleet of local police as an escort, but have been warned not to trust anyone, even the officers tasked with protecting them.
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After they’re diverted due to gunfire nearby, the make it to their destination to pick up a prisoner. On the way back to the border, they find a cartel spotter in a police vehicle following their convoy from one block over, ratcheting up the tension. Despite being able to cut through the majority of border security effortlessly, they get trapped in traffic at the final border crossing.
They quickly realize there are at least two cars loaded with suspicious characters, and then a gun is spotted. But since they’re still in Mexico, they have to wait for the other guys to engage first. And then one opens his door, and all hell breaks loose.
There’s a great breakdown of the sequence on the CineFix YouTube channel, which breaks down how the filmmakers managed to mix the music, editing and camerawork into something tense and terrifying.
The only issue I take with the scene is why this special ops team is entering an environment they know will be hostile, taking no effort to be covert and not even going in with armored vehicles, which they must have access to. If you’re going to go the government-agency-issue black SUV route, why not just go full Hummer convoy?
The rest of the movie doesn’t ever quite return to the level of tension and masterful storytelling from the first act, but it’s still an excellent critique of America’s nightmarish and failed War On Drugs, the violence both sides are capable of, and the questionable lengths we’re willing to go to in the name of public safety and/or justice.
You don’t even need this movie to catch a glimpse of that if you’ve been reading the latest headlines, but the movie devotes itself to a grounded, if dramatic, portrayal of an issue that continues to be one of the biggest we face today.
The entire movie continues its slow burn with quick and violent bursts of action, and it’s no wonder, thanks in part to the hype surround the movie long after its release, that it got a sequel that’s in theaters now. Unfortunately, the second installment lost the director (who went on to do Blade Runner 2049, which we’ll get to eventually), composer, lead actress and cinematographer, and it’s not getting as good a review as this one did.
That’s all from me, now let’s hear from those of you that emailed with your thoughts, opinions and hot takes about Sicario:
There are some universal truths that everyone can agree on. Drugs are bad, killing people is also bad and there is evil in the world that exists that exploits the power of drugs at the expense of human lives. Thanks to the power of movies, Sicario draws me into this world where the United States becomes the good guy by taking the low road and hitting the drug cartels where it hurts and throwing the book out, so to speak.
I feel like the director chose Emily Blunt purposely. The way she acts, drawing out the character as an FBI agent who goes by the rules but also has a heart of gold to where she won’t cross the line, is someone anyone with a bit of imagination can become in their movie chair. For two hours, I am agent Kate Macer. Everyone likes to think, “I’m not a bad person. Justice can come even if I follow the rules.”
Then we’re drawn into this special team where there are no rules, where life isn’t valued as much, and the ends justify the means. It’s just a movie, but it’s exciting. Daniel Kaluuya’s character, agent Reggie Wayne, was almost like a real-life Jiminy Cricket, playing the role as Agent Macer’s (and my) conscience.
At the end of the movie, a crucial battle is won, but as the cliche goes, the war is far from over.
On the way it was shot, I particularly enjoyed the transitions between scenes, the foreshadowing throughout, and the creative camera angles, especially when the gun battles got good.
As an aside, body-on-frames rule the day in this movie. Is there nothing more American as far as covert ops go as a caravan of Black Chevrolet Tahoes?
In this movie we see the following: A woman smokes, a man drinks, and a dog runs away.
Admittedly, I was a little surprised by the choice this week. I never really viewed Sicario as a car movie despite watching it a few times. Upon further review it uses vehicles liberally throughout the film. The choices are accurate in the way the vehicles are relatable in real life, adding to the immersion.
I enjoyed Sicario from the first viewing. The cinematography and film editing somehow managed to such a plain desert landscape and other locations interesting. The film soundtrack does a fantastic job at reflecting the dark and unnerving suspense. The curvaceous story does a good job of progressing through showing teamwork through deception. I also believe that acting of the main characters was excellent.
As noted before the vehicles are portrayed authentically: Government blacked out Tahoes, the abused Mexican F150s, the various Crown Victorias of the different jurisdictions, the civilian and cartel cars at the border, the border patrol vehicles. It wasn’t just the vehicle choice but how they presented. An example would be the new clean Tahoes equipped with tint and steelies stuck in the mass of dirty older civilian vehicles during the border skirmish. How the Mexican city police F150 is missing a hubcap and the general roughed up condition of Silvio’s Crown Vic. How immaculate Diaz’s Mercedes S-Class is. It’s a nice touch seeing this attention of detail.
Sicario does show the manipulative and dark side of both foreign and domestic entities, which is a bit of a common narrative for movies to pursue currently. However for a suspenseful action film I found it enjoyable.
Movie: B because Benicio del Toro is a bad ass in this film. No hablo inglés
Car Movie: C+ Authentic vehicles with a decent amount of usage but this is still a person focused film.
And that wraps it up for this week’s Jalopnik Movie Club review! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with their takes, which I encourage you all to do for next week!
Speaking of next week, we’ll be reviewing Cannonball Run, so be sure to get it watched and collect your thoughts, and write in with your opinions and hot takes to justin at jalopnik dot com.
In the meantime, sound off below about the good and bad of Sicario, and all of its tense, depressing action, and see you all next week!