Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015)

Denis Villenueve’s Sicario does an incredible job in its portrayal national security, drug related crime, and U.S.’s relationship with Mexico as a “don’t look down” demented Alice-in-wonderland style of rabbit hole. From the beginning we latch onto Emily Blunt’s character Kate Macer as a professional, someone we can confide our trust in. She leads the charge of FBI agents breaking and thwarting a local drug house in Arizona. But as soon as she takes on this strange out-of-nowhere case presented by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who is wearing shorts and flip flops in the FBI’s meeting room and doesn’t hide from the indication that he and everything he is associated with is a little too sketchy for comfort, she becomes as clueless as we are and that’s where the tension builds because all of a sudden, our “heroine” is no longer in control, and as Alejandro says, “the war on the border is a war of wolves” and Macer is not a wolf.

The reprehensible acts that occur throughout the film and Macer’s completely powerless, at a loss frustration in dealing with them is disturbingly relatable to the American citizen because, like disturbing news reels, we see the horror, we hear the stories, but we are confined by both power and capability and voice from doing anything about it. They (Alejandro and Graver) constantly tell her that she can leave whenever she wants, and that is probably the only evidence of dignity that they present for themselves on screen… the cartel war has stripped them of any sense of morality (a point that is made clear by the vicious cartel lord, Alarcon, at the dinner table encounter with Alejandro) and their constant refusal to reveal any more than they have to to Macer was probably a blessing, but she kept picking at them anyway, and the rabbit hole went deeper.

The brilliant sequence in the traffic jam where they all jump out of the cars, guns at the ready, and Macer is left inside her vehicle yelling “what the f*u*c*k are we doing?!” is a perfect example of how in the dark many Americans are about this subject of drug cartels (and further confirmation that we probably want to be left in the dark). There is constant questioning and non-answers that go on throughout the film. Rather, the movie takes its horrors and revelations from visual clues. As Macer sits innocently in the back seat of the vehicle rolling through Juarez, they come across an overpass, which has 4 dismembered, bleeding naked bodies hanging from ropes. Alejandro doesn’t even look at her reaction, he just says “Welcome to Juarez”. the way Villenueve films the action, it is structured to augment chaos and unclarity. Only towards the end to we finally see the truth when Mercer emerges from the tunnel to see Alejandro holding office Silvio at gunpoint, but even then, it is a revelation that is out of anyone’s control because it is so far beyond screwed up, that Graver’s justification of it makes it pretty clear that the United States has no clue how to win this war.

It’s a great counterpoise to Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, which prides itself in American exceptionalism in diplomatically negotiating with its enemies (Russia and East Germany) with the utmost firm poise, but mutual respect, while in Sicario, America is completely incompetent, flustered, and grasping at straws on a tunnel to nowhere.


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