Movie Structure Breakdown: Sicario

Format: Movie

Released: 2015

Written By: Taylor Sheridan

Directed By: Denis Villeneuve

Run Time: 115 Minutes

Character: Kate Macer, Alejandro Gillick

Before I begin the analysis can I just say how amazing that movie poster is? It looks like a Drew Struzan piece. But I digress.


A character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Kate Mercer, an idealistic FBI agent in drug violence ravaged Arizona (imperfect situation) struggles to fight Mexican drug cartels gaining a foothold in the US (oppressive opposition) and rescue hostages the gangs have taken (initial goal). But when a routine kidnap raid uncovers dozen of dead bodies and a booby trap that kills two police officers (the disturbance), Kate is asked to join a covert operation to take down the Sonora cartel (the dilemma).

The Imperfect Situation: The FBI is struggling to contain the cartels and are seemingly fighting a war of attrition.

Initial Goal: Kate and her team raid a suspected Mexican cartel safehouse in search of hostages.

Oppressive Opposition: The Mexican cartels are increasingly gaining a foothold in the southwestern US.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Disturbance: 3 minutes – On her routine kidnapper hunt, the house that Kate has tracked down contains dozens of dead bodies and a booby trap that kills two police men.

Turning Point One – The Dilemma: Start Time: 8 minute (6.9%) – At what she thinks is a disciplinary hearing, Kate is asked to join a interdepartmental operation with a top secret mission.

Like Kanye West.

The New Role: Kate becomes a member of a Department of Justice special joint task force

Act Run Time: 15 of 115 minutes (13%)


The character Learns the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Act Start Time: 15 of 115 minutes (13%)

Kate meets and goes on a mission with her new, hard-edged interagency task force team members (the unfamiliar situation) who walk into an ambush (incidental opposition) while trying to extradite on of the cartel’s top men (transitional goal). But when Kate realizes her team is breaking the law to accomplish their objectives (the reality check) she demands to be told what is really going on and decides to stay on the team (the commitment).

The Unfamiliar Situation: Kate meets her new team members who are not what she envisioned. She goes on her first operation which turns out to be in Ciudad Juarez Mexico and not El Paso as she had been led to believe.

Transitional Goal: Assist the task force in apprehending the Sonora Cartel lieutenant Manuel Díaz.

Incidental Opposition: Cartel gunmen attempt to ambush the team and assassinate the druglord Kate’s team is trying to extradite.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Reality Check:  24 of 115 minutes (20%) –  The team goes into Ciudad Juarez and takes custody of Guillermo. Kate sees the other side of the fence for the first time. At the border crossing the team preempts an ambush by swiftly killing several Mexican cartel gunmen.

How Emily Blunt kills spiders.

When they return to the U.S. base, Alejandro tortures Guillermo into revealing a tunnel Díaz uses to smuggle drugs into the U.S. Kate begins to question the legality of the team’s methods, and wonder for whom Matt and Alejandro really work.

Turning Point Two – The Commitment: Start Time: 45 Minutes of 115 minutes (39.1%) – Kate and the team return to the US and travel to an Arizona Border Patrol station to question detained illegal immigrants. At Reggie’s insistence, Matt comes clean about the true nature of the team’s operation, revelaing their objective is to disrupt Díaz’s drug operations to such a degree that Díaz will be summoned back to Mexico by his boss, elusive Sonora Cartel drug lord Fausto Alarcón. Thinking they now know the truth of the operation, Kate and Reggie decide to stay on the case.

Despite the awkward staring contest.

Act Run Time: 38 of 115 minutes (33%)


The character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Act Start Time: 53 of 115 minutes (46%)

Kate personally comes into the crosshairs of the Sonora Cartel (the central conflict) who send one of their moles to survey her (intentional opposition) when she and her team break up Manuel Diaz’s money laundering operation (false goal). But when Kate learns they can’t arrest Manuel Diaz and her boss tells her the government is running the show (the turn), she meets the cartel’s mole, is nearly killed by him and learns that Matt and Alejandro used her as bait  (the moment of truth).

The Central Conflict: Kate incurs the wrath of the Mexican cartel.

False Goal: The team raids a bank used by Díaz’s money launderers, disrupting his cash flow in attempt to get Manuel Diaz called back to Mexico.

Intentional Opposition: After seeing her on the bank security camera, the cartel sends someone after Kate to learn who she is and how much she knows.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Turn: 55 of 115 minutes (47.8%) – Kate and the team stop one of Diaz’s money launderers after making a deposit at a bank. Kate goes into the bank despite Matt’s protests and is capture on surveillance video. Afterward Matt tells her they can’t arrest Diaz. Kate is exasperated. She complains to her boss who reminds her that Diaz hasn’t technically done anything illegal and he’s not calling the shots: the government is.

Turning Point Three – The Moment of Truth: Start Time: 64 minutes (55.6%) – Kate and Reggie go to the Wild Pony bar. Kate orders “two beers” and the bartender doesn’t ask what kind. She meets Reggie’s buddy Ted, a cowboy cop with the Phoenix PD, and attempts to sleep with him, but when she sees he has a cartel money band she realizes he’s working for the cartels. He tries to strangle her but Alejandro intervenes.

It is revealed that Alejandro and Matt used Kate as bait, suspecting that the cartel would send someone after her after she made herself known at the bank raid. Alejandro and Matt torture Ted into revealing names of other officers working for Díaz.

“Judo Chop!”

Alejandro tells Kate that she reminds him of “someone very special” to him.

Act Run Time: 23 of 115 minutes (20%)


The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Act Start Time: 76 of 115 minutes (66%)

Kate and her team raid a Mexican drug tunnel (the doomed plan) and as a result have a shootout with the cartel (self-inflicted opposition) while trying to create a diversion (penultimate goal). But when Kate follows Alejandro into Mexico, discovers Alejandro’s purpose and is shot by him (the lowpoint) Matt reveals that Alejandro’s job is actually to assassinate the head of the Sonora Cartel (the newfound resolve).

The Doomed Plan: The team goes on a raid of the drug tunnels and Kate learns the truth of who and what Alejandro is: He’s the titular Sicario.

No clever caption. Just an amazing shot.

Penultimate Goal: Raid the tunnel to create a diversion. The FBI is only needed because the CIA needs a domestic agency attached to operate on US soil.

Self-Inflicted Opposition: Reggie tries to talk Kate into walking away, but she refuses because she wants to know what’s going on. She intentionally follows Alejandro to see what he’s doing.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Lowpoint: 91 of 115 minutes (79.1%) : Kate stumbles upon Alejandro taking the Mexican cop hostage on the other side of the tunnel. She attempts to arrest him but he shoots her in her bulletproof vest, and tells her to go home.

Turning Point Four – The Newfound Resolve: Start Time: 93 minutes (80.8%) It is revealed that the true focal character is Alejandro, the titular Sicario. When Kate returns from the tunnel and confronts Matt about what they have really been doing he explains that by disabling the Sonora cartel, they are trying to return to a time when a single cartel, Medellín, ran the drug trade. There was an order to the industry and less violence, and until Americans stop using cocaine, this is the best they can hope for. Alejandro, who worked for Medellín, was brought in to assassinate Alarcón. Alarcón had ordered the murder of Alejandro’s wife and daughter, and this is Alejandro’s opportunity for revenge.

Act Run Time: 21 of 115 minutes (18.2%)


The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Act Start Time: 97 of 115 minutes (84.3%)

Alejandro sneaks into Mexico to infiltrate the cartel (the longshot) and faces off with the cartel’s leaders and their goons (ultimate opposition) in order to assassinate the head of the cartel (ultimate goal).

The Longshot: Alejandro uses the Mexican cop, Silvio, as well as Manuel Diaz, to track down the cartel’s leader, Fausto Alarcón, and kill him.

Ultimate Goal: Assassinate the head of the cartel, Fausto Alarcón.

Ultimate Opposition: Alejandro faces off with the baddest hombres south of the Rio Grande.

Turning Point Catalyst – All is Lost: Start Time:  97 minutes (84.3%) The C story of Mexican policeman Silvio is brought to an end with a well placed bullet from Alejandro.

Turning Point Five – The Final Push: Start Time: 102 minutes (88.6%) Alejandro and Manuel Diaz arrive at the gates and Alejandro kills all the guards before finding Fausto Alarcón and his family at dinner and exacting his revenge.

How Benicio Del Toro kills spiders. Much more efficient.

Act Run Time: 10 of 115 minutes (8.6%)


Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Act Start Time: 107 of 115 minutes (93%)

Kate now knows the reality of the world she inhabits and must decide what role she will play in it moving forward (the new situation).

The New Situation: Alejandro appears in Kate’s apartment where he forces her at gunpoint to sign a waiver legitimizing the entire operation as legal. He tells her she reminds him of his daughter, and that she isn’t a wolf.

Wolves don’t cry.

As he leaves she aims her pistol at him, but can’t pull the trigger.

In Ciudad Juarez, Silvio’s widow watches her son’s soccer game. The game is briefly interrupted by the sound of gunfire, but quickly resumes.

Act Run Time: 8 of 115 minutes (6.9%)

To learn more about six act structure, purchase your copy of “Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret” today!

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