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El Sicario, Room 164

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
The Mexican hitman who's the titular subject of El Sicario, Room 164
A Mexican hitman in El Sicario, Room 164

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

South of the border, down Mexico way: In a nondescript motel, room 164, a man calmly approaches a mirror. We see only the back of his head for a brief moment before he drapes himself in obscuring black cloth. He turns to us, anonymous except for his voice (instantly captivating) and his hands, which move in harmony with his impassioned speech. This is the sicario---a former hit man for the Ciudad Jurez drug cartels---and he has a story to tell.

Director Gianfranco Rosi gives the subject of this troubling minimalist documentary, which rarely strays from its primary setting, free rein. Armed with only a notebook, a Sharpie and his own afflicted memories, the sicario relates a shocking yet entirely believable tale of nearly two decades of criminality: his troubled adolescence, his entry into a corrupt police academy (a front for the cartels), and the many kidnappings and murders he committed to serve his masters. Rosi never embellishes; it's enough to hear the assassin describe the methods of torture he employed---like a boiling vat of water used to cook off conscious victims' body parts---to form a horrifying picture of a man pushed to depraved extremes. There is no comfort to be had, not even when the killer powerfully tells of the religious conversion that set him on the right, but no less dangerous, path. (The cartel now has a $250,000 price on his head.) Despite his repentance, you sense that this lost soul will be confessing his sins for all eternity.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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Written by Keith Uhlich
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