At the end of the excellent movie Sicario, Benicio del Toro puts a gun to Emily Blunt’s face and tells her that she should move to a small town where the rule of law still exists because the place where they are – the U.S.-Mexico border – has become a land of wolves and she, unlike he, is not a wolf.
del Toro, who previously played a man who became a wolf in the 2010 movie The Wolfman, thus implies that he has murdered and will continue to murder because he recognizes that the land where they live is no longer governed by human law but rather by a primordial order. In such a time and place, humans must either flee or heed the call of the wild: master or be mastered, kill or be killed, eat or be eaten.
It’s an interesting argument in and of itself but moreso because the movie has already presented other, very different arguments as to who the titular hero, the assassin, is and why he must exist. This abundance of arguments betrays a lack of confidence in an otherwise perfectly confident movie about confident men. Why?
Sicario begins with a text that explains the ancient origins of the word “sicario”, a name for Jews in first century Judea who resorted to assassination in order to expulse their foreign overlords, the Romans. This is the movie’s first argument for why del Toro’s character, the assassin, exists: he is a nationalist freedom fighter.
(Presumably, the criminal organizations are the Roman occupying force to which the opening paratext refers. Yet the good guys consist primarily of a Special Operations team returning from the most recent war in Afghanistan. Just who are the Romans in this scenario is a question the film unwittingly raises but does not explore.)