Thursday, January 14, 2016


Where do we place blame?  Discussions of the deplorable situation in Mexico, Columbia, and other parts of the world embroiled in and torn by the illegal drug market either ignore the question entirely or become so caught up in it that the problems on the ground seem to disappear.  We can suggest that the market for cocaine and heroin in the United States creates the demand that leads to the chaos and crime of Northern Mexico.  No doubt that market exists, but it exists in other parts of the world as well.  The demand for illegal drugs may help create the market, but if we somehow prove that argument we have not addressed the drug trade itself.  And if all we do is deplore the lawlessness and terror that predominate in certain parts of such a place as Mexico, then we ignore the cause, and if we don’t address the cause the market, somewhere, somehow, is going to be there.

The film Sicario (2015, dir. Denis Villeneuve) tries to consider cause.  The result is confusion.  In one long-distance shot, the camera pans from neatly ordered streets of an Arizona border town across the river to a disorderly, chaotically arranged, decidedly ominous Mexican town—presumably Juarez.  The music for the film, which relies on ominous drumbeats and portentous groaning bass notes, colludes in the effect.  Here in Mexico we’re asked to see the Other, the dark and uncivilized heart of the drug wars that seem to be infiltrating areas around the border with the United States.  Therefore, it’s Mexico that is the problem.

But the film hedges its bets and in the end suggests that not only has the demand for drugs in the US created the drug trade, but that the tactics of certain US law enforcement and security units devised the tactics that came to be the stock and trade in terror of the Mexican drug lords.  In this case, it’s the CIA that has become involved in trying to subdue the drug lords, but in so doing its operatives sink to a level of lawlessness and terror that is, so the film would have it, hardly separate from that of the drug lords itself. This is simplistic.

I hoped to find in this movie an intelligent attempt at portraying and even understanding the problem.  Instead, I found a veneer of ultra-realism, suspense, and first-person shooter video game substituting for perceptiveness. The film tries to mimic the method of faux documentaries like Zero Dark Thirty, Black Hawk Down, Syriana but the result is an action adventure film that pretends to be more than it is.

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