At the Movies: Sicario

Kate, this isn’t something that I dreamed up myself. I don’t have the authority to hire advisors, or authorize joint agency missions, or fly agents from Air Force bases. Are you understanding me? These decisions are made far from here, by officials elected to office, not appointed to them. So, if your fear is operating out of bounds, I am telling you, you are not. The boundary’s been moved.

‒ FBI Special Agent in Charge Dave Jennings in Sicario (2015)

This is a film review of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario (2015) with an eye towards using it in Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game.


Stop reading if you want to avoid SPOILERS.

The film follows FBI Special Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she is drafted into a joint task force that includes operatives from the DEA, US Marshals Service, and USSOCOM CAG. Although intrigued and motivated by wanting to find out more about the Mexican cartel whose terrible handiwork she encountered early in the film, Macer is gripped by paranoia and a sense of betrayal almost from the get-go.

And not without reason. The first job of the team, the extraction of a cartel honcho from Mexico to the USA, quickly devolves into a deadly and presumably illegal firefight while crossing the border. Team leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is eventually revealed to be a CIA agent, just as Macer had suspected all along. The only reason they included her was to give the operation a veneer of legality, as the CIA ‒ let alone the US military ‒ is not allowed to operate on US soil without oversight by another Federal agency.

There are numerous items to take away from Sicario.

For one, there is the interagency cooperation ‒ and rivalry. Just like in many DELTA GREEN operations, agents are pulled together from various pots of the US alphabet soup ‒ CIA, DEA, FBI, USMS, and USSOCOM CAG. While ostensibly everybody is on board with the programme in order to achieve the same end, in reality there are still different approaches and even agendas. This is an excellent example of how to add detail to a DELTA GREEN operation.

Another important aspect is the trauma experienced by Macer and her consequent gradual psychological deterioration ‒ Macer sees mutilated bodies cached in walls and hanging from bridges; watches people get killed and kills them herself; gets almost choked to death; realises that she was used as bait; gets shot in her bullet-resistant vest by a man she considered part of her team, if not a Friendly; gets punched down by her team leader; and finally gets threatened with death with a pistol to her face. This quickly builds up and would leave any investigator’s SAN in serious jeopardy. It is not a confrontation with the Mythos, but it shows that man-made Horror can be quite enough to push an investigator over the edge.

Macer is also horrified by the casual way the other agents deal out death and ignore the Rule of Law. Does the end justify the means? Director Denis Villeneuve boiled it down to the question: “How can we fight evil? Do we need to become monsters like the monsters?” Surely this is one of the most important questions faced by DELTA GREEN agents at some point in their career. Graver and the other agents appear to have either ignored the question for themselves or to have come to terms with it ‒ quite happily it would appear. Macer, on the other hand, becomes deeply disturbed over the course of events and seems to drop out of the game entirely by the end. Initially a tough, accomplished FBI Regional SWAT leader, she becomes an impotent, terrified woman who is told that “you will not survive here, you are not a wolf. This is the land of wolves.” While this is unfulfilling to watch and, accidentally or on purpose, worryingly patronising given that Macer is the only woman in an otherwise male cast, it is great cinema and portrayed perfectly by actor Blunt.

In the context of Delta Green, this shows at least one of several believable character arcs for a DELTA GREEN agent, male or female. Faced with the Horrors of the Mythos, anyone is liable to crack eventually.

In addition, the operational details are well done ‒ excellent tactics, appropriate weaponry and other kit, etc. The weapons handling shown is generally good, and Macer and her fellow FBI agent are reminded to “keep your fucking safeties off, barrels down. Stay in the back. Don’t shoot anybody of my fucking team, right?” Realistically, most of the shooting is in double-taps, which unfortunately is not rewarded by the new rules in Delta Green. Macer carries a Glock 23 pistol (Investigator Weapons 2: Modern Day, pp. 64-66) and Colt M4A1 assault carbine (Investigator Weapons 2, p. 98-101) with EOTech552 reflex sight (Investigator Weapons 2, p. 196). Mysterious contractor Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) uses an H&K MK 23 MOD 0 pistol (Investigator Weapons 2, pp. 71-72) with suppressor (Investigator Weapons 2, pp. 193-194). Both image-intensifying night vision goggles and thermal-imaging (Investigator Weapons 2, p. 197) are shown in use.

The Handler could insert a Lovecraftian Horror literally anywhere in the story and pull off an excellent Delta Green scenario.

Using the rating system pioneered by The Unspeakable Oath, Sicario rates six phobias for violence and mood, but should really be seen as a textbook example for how to pull a new DELTA GREEN agent into “The Program” and how to include trauma that does not originate in the Mythos.