This one is not for the faint of heart. It’s a peek into the very dark underworld of drug cartels, where you need to be a wolf to survive. The lambs are just slaughtered.
Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent who has seen firsthand the end product of the presence of warring cartels along the U.S./Mexico border: a house raid in Phoenix turned into not only a grisly find of rows of dead bodies hidden behind the dry wall, but also a bomb planted in the padlocked storeroom, which killed a couple of her fellow agents and wounded several more, including her. So, when offered the opportunity to participate in a joint task force with “high” authorization, she readily volunteered. But suddenly she was in a place where the rules no longer existed, much less procedures, guidelines, and procedural limitations as she had always been taught. Sure, she felt like she was in over her head, but worse, her new compadres were not eager to keep her informed about what they were doing, and why. They were tough guys who said little, other than to remind her to stay out of the way. As an experienced ops commander herself, she was not accustomed to being treated that way. But she was told to listen and learn, and quit asking so many questions, because she wouldn’t like the answers.
So for most of the movie, the viewer is just as in the dark as she is: why are we tracking a cash deposit in a bank. (We find out it’s how the cartel is moving money.) Why are we transferring a captured cartel boss from Mexico to the U.S.? (So we can rattle the chain of his American superior.) Why are we shooting first and asking questions later? (Because if you don’t get the drop on the bad guys, you won’t be around for the next mission.) Why do we need to know about a tunnel through the border? (Because attacking it by night will flush out the big boss, and once he’s captured, can lead us to the real kingpin.)
Kate Macer does not come through this unscathed, either mentally or physically. She sees things she wishes she hadn’t seen. She’s used as bait to flush out an informer. She’s traumatized, shot at, personally attacked, and verbally reprimanded. And at the end, the churlish jefe just says to her, “Why don’t you move to a nice small town where they still practice the rule of law?” The implication is clear: when dealing with the cartel outlaws, to beat them you have to be badder than the bad guys.
Emily Blunt carries just the right combination of toughness and vulnerability for this role. Benecio Del Toro is his usual tour de force, dangerous energy just emanating from his grizzled persona. Josh Brolin adds a smiling kind of menace, and by the end, we’re all traumatized by the grisly events on screen.
How do you fight the horrible, death-dealing drug cartels? If this is the only way, then Lord help us all.