First Hit: With a reflection towards today’s boarder issues and cartels, this film also shows us a side of our government that could also exist.
Our government manipulates groups of people to change the course of events to suit themselves.
In this movie, we have the government wanting to start a war between Mexican drug cartels so that it disrupts the flow of people coming into the United States. They want to do this, because their belief is that a terrorist bombing explosion in a Kansas City grocery store was done by Islamic radicals that came through the Mexican border. They believe the cartels are transporting these radicals across the borders.
To create this disruption, our Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) brings on Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) CIA Special Activities Division agent, to figure out how to start a war between two cartels. By doing so he hopes to disrupt the inflow of terrorists across the Mexican border. He says the way to do this is to kidnap one of the cartels children and have the evidence point to the kidnapping by a rival cartel. Once Riley decides to go with this plan, he assigns Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) to manage the operation.
Graver brings on Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) who has a grudge against Carlos Reyes one of the cartels' leaders because they killed his family. Besides being motivated, Garver tells Alejandro he’s got free reign to do what he needs to make this operation happen.
The subplot is about a young boy Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez) who is lured by money to become a coyote and take people across the border. Because he lives in the U.S. he can easily go across the border as needed to pick up his cargo of immigrants and take them across the river to the U.S. side.
When Alejandro and Graver kidnaps Isabel Reyes(Isabella Moner), they try to bring her back into Mexico. However, the Mexican police get involved, start a gun fight with the CIA, and try to get the girl back by killing the CIA operatives in convoy. The whole mission goes sour.
Riley and Foards find out that most of the bombers were born U.S. Citizens and not from over the border. This and with the convoy attack, Riley tells Graver to “clean it all up,” meaning kill the girl and Alejandro who escaped the Mexican Police assault. However, Alejandro has some integrity, is in possession of the girl, and decides he’s going to help the girl and himself stay alive and figure out a way out of the mess they're in.
The action is intense in this film and there is humility and kind humanity. As for the latter, there is a sweet sequence when Alejandro meets up with Angel (Bruno Bichir), a deaf man, finds a way to communicate with him, and asks him to help both him and the girl.
Brolin is strong in this CIA role. He carries the right amount of commanding surety in his character. Modine is excellent as Secretary of Defense. Keener was OK as the mission’s commander. Del Toro was excellent as the assassin with a heart. Moner was a revelation in this role. She showed wisdom far deeper than her age and perfect for the role. Rodriguez was very good as the brooding young man trying to find his way through his life. Bichir was wonderful as the deaf man who helps Alejandro and Reyes. Taylor Sheridan wrote a strong script that bordered on being too complicated for the required action. Stefano Sollima did a wonderful job of directing the action in this film.
Overall: I liked the relatedness to today’s border issues along with the movie's dramatization of the ugly truth that our government is not above throwing people away to cover their mistakes.