'Sicario' tells the story of a principled FBI agent who is enlisted by a government task force to bring down the leader of a powerful and brutal Mexican drug cartel.
The film - starring Emily Blunt as idealistic agent Kate Macer alongside co-stars Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin - has been nominated for three Oscars, and lauded for its realistic depiction of the unending battle between those cartels responsible for bringing so many drugs into the US, and the officers intent on bringing them down.
To mark the home release of the film, we spoke to real-life retired drug enforcement agent Sheila Bond, who worked in this field for over two decades, following a stint in the New York Police Department. She was a gang expert and went undercover multiple times during a career that brought as much frustration as satisfaction. She talks us through what could be considered a pretty difficult way of making a living...
The film 'Sicario' depicts Emily Blunt's character Kate Macer as initially very idealistic about the job she has to do. How idealistic were you when you set out, and to what extent did your experiences affect this? What was the hardest lesson you had to learn along the way?
When you are young and have never had a decent job before, you may be idealistic. One of the things you learn in your position, is that nothing can be done alone. Blunt’s character had the experience of a SWAT team, and team work. Together we can win, not alone.
I was never that idealistic. I always knew that I would do the best I could, give 110% and hopefully make some difference. The people with whom I worked were part of the hardest lesson. Criminals can be straightforward, tell you the truth, threaten you and the like. My obstacles came from the people with whom I worked. There is still a "glass ceiling" and I would be lied to and deceived by my own team. Some people are insecure and someone who is better and more able is seen as a threat.
Was there a time that was particularly frightening, or gave you pause that you had taken the right career path?
I had been a Police Officer in NY prior to DEA. In uniform, you are a target. In the DEA, you are playing a part. There were several times where a gun was drawn down on me, but shooting was not a good decision when chemicals are involved. Several dealers from whom I purchased drugs for were armed. I honestly felt I could handle that. There was one time that a deal went down, and as the undercover, I gave a "bust" signal. No one came in to my location. Did it again, no response. An undercover is expected not to take part in the capture of the crook, but the arrest team never came to my location. He started to run, I tried to take him down, but he was younger and stronger. In all honesty, I never once doubted my decision to take this job. You need to love what you do and do what you love. There are bad days, but you choose that position. Nothing is ever perfect, but no regrets for me.
What was the biggest surprise you discovered about the people on either side?
I had the right expectations of the crooks I was dealing with. Once caught they are wussies or just plain punks. I had more issues with my co-workers. I did my best to follow the rules, do what was right for all concerned. One guy came back from overseas and put in for a position that I had already applied for. He was 2 weeks late. He got it and knew so within 15 minutes, I wasn't told for 2 days. So, I went to my boss and told him off. My own people were the problem. A crook knows when the game is over- handcuffed and going with us. People in your own office put themselves first.
What was the biggest change to real life that has been made in the film, or is it pretty accurate?
Overall it was pretty accurate in regard to the Mexican Cartels. They are in the business financially and will take out any obstacle in their way, whether that’s a cop or another branch. Execution is no big deal to them. If they kidnap one of us, they do so with the intent of gaining useful information. Macer’s issue stemmed from not obeying her boss to stay out of the bank. She identified herself in that matter and then made herself open to the attempt on her life.
Based on your experience in the field, where is the solution to such a crime epidemic to be found?
It all has to do with money. When someone is a financial threat, they are taken out. In Sicario, the murder of all the gun firie was necessary to save oneself, as they did on the highway. It meant one cartel was now partly eliminated- but of course, they’ll slowly get back in business. You touch the wallet and merchandise, and the result is a threat. Therefore the shooting went down and they were removed as a threat.
In my experience, the FBI is more reactive, not proactive. The drug business should be left to the Drug unit. We go to the source country and eliminate the production. As much dope as you seize- it’s just a portion of what comes in. The war can feel never ending, and as long as there is a desire for the narcotics it will continue. We may win a battle but for now, not the war- as long as supply and demand continues.
They are doing their job while we do ours. After 21 years on the job, I lived. I did what I could in the drug war. Arrested many but there are more out there- the battle goes on every day.
Sicario is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.