Death of the Critic

Anatomy of a Scene - Sicario

Written by: Tom Blaich


might be my favorite film of last year. Excellent cinematography, soundtrack, and story drove the film, backed up by some of the best acting I have seen in a while. Emily Bunt was fantastic as the driven Kate Macy and Josh Brolin was infuriatingly calm as the anonymous CIA agent Matt. But the star of the show for me was Benecio del Toro’s performance as Alejandro, who dominated the screen whenever he entered the frame. Dark, mysterious, aggressive, and caring, he presented an interesting and conflicted character that stayed just mysterious enough for you to want to know more about him.

At the climax of the film we found Alejandro sitting across from the cartel boss, Alarcón, who they have been hunting for the entire movie. Alejandro has snuck into Mexico through a drug tunnel that he assaulted alongside a team of Delta operators, Matt, Kate, and Reggie. He captures a lower level meter of the organization and uses him to sneak into Alarcón’s house, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake as he takes a seat at the family’s dinner table.

We see the two boys on one side of the table and the wife on the other. At each end we have Alarcón and Alejandro facing each other down. At first it seems that Alejandro is simply challenging the bosses authority. He sits across him with a gun trained at him, the barrel facing the camera as it waits to fire. In the entirety of the scene we barely see the two men together in one shot. If we do, it is from behind the shoulder of one of the men, only showing one of their faces at a time. This brings in an entirely different element to the scene, where there is a comparison between the two men. On one side we have the man who used to be a lawyer and has sunk to the darkest depths to reach this table, and on the other side we have the ruthless and efficient cartel boss staring him down. Alejandro is looking into a mirror at who he has become.

This is set up throughout the movie, and as he enters the scene we watch him hesitate at the edge of the border between the house and the yard, inside and out, light and dark. For him, this is a defining moment where he has to choose if he is going to go through with this or if he is going to back out. We see him in silhouette against the brightly lit house behind him before he crosses the boundary into a much darker world. We can’t see him anymore, as he is shrouded in darkness as the civilized world that he has left behind stands in his wake.

When he walks up to the table he joins the family in their small pool of light as he tells the two young boys, “comen, comen.” Eat, eat. It’s a striking visual, with the well dressed family and the heavily armed man in black tactical gear with a silenced pistol. It’s a collision of two worlds, of violence and tranquility, of family and death. He asks Alarcón if the boys speak English. He seemingly wants this conversation kept from them, but he gives the appearance that he is only here for the head of the family.

“Every night you have families killed. Why should tonight be any different?” You can see that this is not an unfamiliar situation to Alarcón. He tries to regain control of the scene, appearing calm and collected. As the audience we know that he is about to die. Never have we been so sure of something. The entire film has been building up to this point, to this single defining moment of violence, where the fallen prosecutor confronts the man who brought him to this point, the man who killed his wife and daughter in front of his eyes. He has gone from a just man to a man who would do anything for his own justice. On the other side we have Alarcón, a strict businessman who will do whatever, no matter how wrong, for the sake of his profit. For him, personal feelings have nothing to do with any of it. For Alejandro, everything he does is for his personal feelings.

They have become mirror images of each other. Alejandro is being used and he doesn’t care. Alarcón uses others and doesn’t care. They both have done reprehensible things to get to this moment in time, and none of those terrible things have changed their steadfast determination towards their own goals. As they talk with each other we see Alarcón repeat Alejandro’s words back to his children. “Comen, comen.” Eat, eat. Villanueve is setting up the duality between the two characters, which tells us exactly what is about to happen. He builds the tension between the two characters as we wait for Alejandro to finally kill Alarcón.

Ever since Alejandro was introduced, he has been shrouded in mystery. His whole aim through the movie has been to take revenge, to build towards this moment. We saw his capabilities at the border, and his anger in the interrogation, and his ruthlessness on the way to Alarcón’s compound. This tension has been building the entire movie, like a slowly burning fuse on a bomb. The score has dropped away and we are finally presented with this face to face confrontation, to see that final step in Alejandro’s transformation. The kids and wife aren’t even being looked at. The camera cuts are long, and we see each man from the point of view of the other. The barrel of the gun seems to track every movement of your eyes, waiting to bark out its deadly duty.

All at once, the scene changes. No longer are they equals across a table. Alejandro has seized control of the situation. We see Alarcón deflate, his entire demeanor changing in a moment.. He pleads, “Not in front of my boys.” There is a moment here, a moment in time that seems to last a lifetime. An invisible choice that is to be made. The roles are reversed. Alejandro probably once made this same plea to Alarcón. Their places have fully shifted, and in this moment, you know that Alarcón is about to die.

“Time to meet god.” The gun blurts out three times, slightly shifting to the side with each shot. We saw the camera focus on the two boys and the wife just moment’s ago. It’s a plea to Alejandro’s humanity, but there is none left. We see the camera flash to Alarcón, but he is still alive. You can hear dishes crashing and bodies crumpling outside of the view of the camera. The camera cuts back to Alejandro. Nothing has changed. He is dead inside. He has become Alarcón. And we see the shock and horror on Alarcón’s face before Alejandro raises his gun.

As he does we finally see the first shot of the two of them together with both of their faces in frame. We see the bodies splayed out on the floor and the blood pooling around them. The bodies lying between them are not only the bodies of Alarcón’s family but those of Alejandro’s family as well. His transformation is complete, and as he tell’s Alarcón to finish his meal, we see the first flash of emotion from Alejandro. For the first time he is cruel. He gives the man a flash of hope before he shoots him, and he does not kill him immediately. He makes him feel pain before death, and we can hear his gurgling as we watch Alejandro hesitate as he stands up and takes aim to deliver the final shot. His job is done. He is the evil now.

It is a masterclass in dramatic tension. We know that violence is coming, but we are made to wait. And wait. And wait. By the time that the shots come, your heart is in your throat. It’s almost cathartic, and Villanueva preys upon that by making that catharsis come with the death of the family instead of with Alarcón. It shows us what we are party to. What our country endorses. And how we think that extreme measures can solve our problems. But they don’t. Nothing is changed by the events of the film, by the horrific actions we allow. People are worse off, if anything. No matter how far we have sunk, we couldn’t fix the problem. But we had to sell our souls to figure that out.


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

You Might Also Like:
The Christ Figure

The Makings of a Good Horror Movie Kill

We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service - Review

blog comments powered by Disqus