The border between Mexico and the United States is a hot issue in contemporary politics and public opinion; it has been the subject of several movies and TV series, a few have been very good, the rest hardly memorable. Until recently the film Traffic had been the standard, with the peculiarity that actor Benicio del Toro is in both Traffic and Sicario.; the difference being the growing prominence of his participation, and that the latter drama has escalated to tragedy.
Sicario is an important film for its artistic merits as much for its biting ideological discourse; an intrigue of rapid action ingeniously constructed that engages our attention. To say it’s a border drama is a gross simplification; the film transcends immediacy dealing with the border in a literal and figurative way. It corresponds, not only to the boundary between two countries, but also the boundary between reason and savagery, when life looses its inviolability, and reality is rendered worthless. The boundary between legal and lawlessness, transparency and secrecy are unleashed by the need to arouse the beast in man.
True to the theory of starting the movie with a bang, the action gets going with the culmination of a previous episode, when the FBI barges on a house suspected to serve as a safe place for illegal immigrants. A prologue that serves to establish the courage and determination of Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt). What is found is nothing less that grotesque and the fatal explosion that comes with it provide her (and us) with powerful motives for her subsequent behavior.
The debriefing following the action leads to Mercer,s recruitment to an elite group led by Matt (Josh Brolin) head of an undercover team dealing with extreme operations, ex-soldiers armed to their teeth. Their mission is to “dramatically overact”, and they do it in the most calculated way, to pursue their way to the head of a Mexican cartel. The intrigue is fueled by Kate’s intimate dilemma, the social angle is generously found in the interactions of the characters and the risks pertaining to the mission.
Alejandro (Benifio del Toro) is one of the members of the team, a withdrawn and enigmatic character that grows in prominence as events unfold. The narrative structure is clever in the way it heads the protagonists in one direction to shift and surprise, as it should. It is also clever in the way it manages the antagonist and has a crucial line: In the end you will understand. The only humor I could find in a bloody plot.
Sicario is neccesarily referenced with Traffic; they share the same issues and the presence of del Toro. They are both beautifully crafted director films, and share the magic of their images. This role moves del Toro from supporting to leading, in a most dramatic way. The wonderful photography of Rober Deakis and the outstanding score by Johann Johannssen make this the type of movie that remains afterwards, claiming further thoughts. The direction of Denis Villenueve is noteworthy, his rendering of the artistic, technical and ideological content has immediacy, starting Oscar rumors with good reason.
What is disturbing about the film is the way it so convincingly portrays the escalation of violence in the border, depicting it as an undeclared war where all rules are barred, where action is above the law and transcends order.
Copyright 2015 by Jose M. Umpierre. Sicario trailer stills used under “fair use” proviso of the copyright law. All other photos are in the public domain.