If you want to get Benicio Del Toro riled up, bring up the subject of revenge. It’s not like you won’t get a passionate reaction out of the sleepy-eyed actor over a variety of different topics — say, representations of Mexico in Hollywood moviemaking, or why a minimalistic approach to acting is often more effective, or his skill in giving “Wet Willies” (more on that in a bit). But when the subject of vengeance comes up in regards to his new movie, the drug-cartel thriller Sicario (playing in select theaters now and opening nationwide on October 2nd), Del Toro suddenly sits up very straight on the couch in his Toronto hotel room. He stops staring at the ceiling, locks in and becomes completely engaged, intensely so.
“What’s that old saying about taking the eye-for-an-eye thing to its logical extreme,” the actor asks rhetorically. “Everybody goes blind. There are folks who’ll watch this movie and go” — he adopts a John Wayne voice — “‘This is how you do it.’ That’s what the film is asking here: What side are you on? Do you follow the rules of engagement, or do you embrace vigilantism, because you think that’s the only way to get things done?” Del Toro jerks a thumb at his costar Emily Blunt, who’s lounging on the sofa next to him, nodding. “Me, I belong to her character’s side of the equation. There has to be law and order. Or else you’re fucked, man.”
That metaphorical dish best served cold is embedded into Sicario‘s genetic make-up from the very first set piece, in which Blunt’s F.B.I. agent watches her kidnap-response team get taken out by a booby-trapped house. The promise of revenge is how she’s recruited to join a special-ops task force run by a fratboy intelligence spook, played by Josh Brolin as a human shit-eating-grin — and why she finds herself paired with Del Toro’s mystery man, who’s also motivated by the promise of payback. (The actor has said in previous interviews that after playing everything from a cop to Pablo Escobar in drug-war flicks, the chance to explore “the angle of revenge” was partially what attracted him to the role.) And the concept of revenge has long been a recurring motif in filmmaker Denis Villenueve’s work, from his breakout work Incendies (2010) to his all-star meditation on retribution, Prisoners (2013).
In the French-Canadian director’s eyes, however, vengeance was just one of the things about actor-turned screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s script that made him sign on immediately. “The movie addresses what’s happening in Mexico right now, sure,” he says, sitting down next to his stars. “But it could have been set in the Middle East or Africa. Because really, this is a film about America, and how the foreign policies of the Western world reflect a notion that we’re above the law. We act like the rest of the world belong to us.” He pauses before adding, “I’m including my home country in this group as well; you’re not off the hook, Canada. We in the West have a tendency to create chaos. And that chaos does not improve things.”