Sicario is a movie that often hides information from us. And that makes sense, given that a major theme of the movie is the enormous gap between what we think is going on and what is really going on. Kate (Emily Blunt) personifies this theme. At the beginning, she’s a tough, effective FBI agent who is recruited onto a special task force because of her aptitude and performance. By the end of the movie, she’s bruised, spooked, and looks ready to cry at any second. It’s pretty sad what she goes through and what it does to her. It’s beyond a loss of innocence, it’s a loss of hope, security, faith, confidence…yeesh.
Because Kate is the viewer surrogate: we’re often in the same place as she is when it comes to the mission, asking the same question she is: what’s going on????
But the film isn’t restricted to Kate. We follow her, we follow Alejandro, and we follow Silvio.
I think we understand why we’re following Kate, as she’s our surrogate. And why we’re following Alejandro, as he’s the actual protagonist of the film (the title, “Sicario”, refers to him) and the one executing the most dangerous part of the mission. But why Silvio?
The simplest answer is that Sicario wants to make a statement about the impact drug cartels and American agencies have on the Mexican people.
This comes through in how dominant the American force is that speeds into Juarez, in how efficient they are at executing the pathetic cartel crews at the border crossing (and later in the tunnel), in the way Matt (Josh Brolin) has busses full of Mexicans halted on the highway for hours just so he can interview a few. But the cherry on top is the final scene, at Silvio’s son’s soccer game in Juarez. Silvio’s son is on a breakaway, close to scoring, when gunfire goes off. Shocked by the ratatatat of the shots, the son misses badly. Not only does he miss, but when the ball’s thrown back in Silvio’s son is behind everyone else, chasing after the ball, now at a disadvantage. That’s bleak.
In this simple way, Silvio’s story is nothing more than a method to make us care about the kid at the end, to make that scene more poignant than it would be if this were the first time we’d ever seen the son.
What do we know about Silvio?
We know he’s a husband and a father.
We know he’s a state police officer for Mexico.
We know that he’s a corrupt officer that helps transport drugs.
We know that when Alejandro appears, Silvio says, “Medellin.”
So why does Silvio say “Medellin” to Alejandro?
I can think of three reasons, and none of them win because, as far as I can tell, the movie doesn’t supply us with enough information to actually know what’s going on.
1. Silvio recognizes Alejandro:
A common interpretation is that Alejandro is known as “Medellin”. That’s why Guillermo says, “No, Medellin.” So the idea is that Silvio recognizes Alejandro as this hitman “Medellin” or at least is asking Alejandro, “Are you Medellin?”
If that’s all there is to the moment, I’m incredibly disappointed. One, it makes no sense to me why Alejandro would have the nickname “Medellin” all on his own. Is he even Colombian? As far as we know, he’s only been contracted by the Colombians. Matt says something about Alejandro seeking revenge against the Mexican cartels so will work for anyone who contracts him against the Mexican cartels. I just think it’s a nickname that’s too on the nose and underdeveloped. But even if we allow for the nickname, how does Silvio know about it? Has Alejandro been used that much against the Mexican cartel that even Silvio knows of him? Is Alejandro a living legend? Has Silvio seen Alejandro before?
We don’t know enough about Silvio’s role in the cartel or Alejandro’s history as a hitman/assassin engaging with the cartels for it to make sense that Silvio would recognize Alejandro. Which means that, at its best, this moment is a logic gap.
2. Silvio knows about the cartel wars and is asking a general question:
It could be very well known to people engaged with the Mexican cartel that the Colombian cartel wants control or is working with the Americans. So when Alejandro comes through the tunnel the first thing that leaps into Silvio’s head is, “Oh shit, I wonder if he’s working for the Colombians?” So then he casually references the Medellin cartel. That would be an incredibly lucky guess. If this is the case, I’m infuriated by the laziness. And it’s also a logic gap.
Or, 3. Silvio is actually a mole or informant:
The only thing that makes sense to me is that Silvio’s part of the mission. There are three reasons why I think this.
1. During the tunnel scene, Silvio is unloading drugs with some random guy who is about to die. The guy yells at Silvio to hurry up and Silvio doesn’t move. The guy wants to leave, even pulls a gun on Silvio to get Silvio to skedaddle, and Silvio doesn’t budge. We could read this as shock or indecision or just being scared. But it could also be that his orders from the Americans or Colombians were to wait there for someone to meet him.
2. As Alejandro pats Silvio down, Silvio says “Medellin” in a very calm way, as though he knew it was the thing he had to say in this situation. Immediately after he says it, we start to see Benecio react, but Kate interrupts. Obviously, “Medellin” has meaning or else Kate wouldn’t have asked Matt about it. And Matt never acted like the word was meaningless. As soon as Kate asks, Matt tells her that it signifies restoring power to the Colombians so there’s order in the drug trade. That’s way too specific a word for Silvio to blurt out for no reason. And it seems too coincidental to me, or too lazy, for it to be Alejanrdro’s nickname AND the meaningful word that symbolizes the spirit of the mission.
3. Really, I don’t think Sicario is about Kate or Alejandro but about the mission Medellin. Medellin, as we eventually learn, is the plan to re-establish control of the drug trade to a Colombian cartel, the idea being that the Colombians will have more order and less collateral damage than the Mexicans. That’s what Matt’s ultimate mission is: to stabilize the drug trade. The opening scene in Arizona is where we meet Kate, but it’s also the inciting action that allows Matt to kick Medellin into motion. 30+ bodies stuffed into a house in Arizona crosses a line, so now the Mexican cartel needs shut down.
If Silvio is part of the mission, it makes more sense then why the film cuts away to him throughout the narrative: he isn’t an outlier but a pawn waiting to be sacrificed, not all that different from Kate. This means his scenes aren’t just shoehorned in to create an emotional connection with the family. Instead, we’re seeing Silvio because Silvio is a crucial element to the mission, even if it’s not until later.
If Silvio is part of the mission, it also makes more sense why he says “Medellin” when he would otherwise have no reason to say “Medellin”.
And those are the only reasons I can think of regarding why Silvio says “Medellin”. We have zero concrete proof for any one of them to be right, so they’re all, as far as I’m aware, logic gaps. We do hear multiple people say a number of times that the state police are corrupt. So that could foreshadow that Silvio is working with the Americans or Colombians. But, again, we have no proof.
I love Sicario and think it’s one of the coolest movies I’ve seen in years. But the role of Silvio is a logic gap that will confuse a lot of viewers and detract from their viewing experience. It’s one of the few spots in the movie I find poorly developed. If you want to hate the movie, Silvio’s role is absolutely something you can point to as why the film is flawed. If you want to love the movie, then you can do like I did and buy into the theory that Silvio’s part of the mission. If you buy in then there’s a much stronger sense of unity and purpose to Silvio’s scenes and overall worthiness in the narrative. I wish I had a better answer for you.