Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
by Jon Cvack
I saw Sicario as not about now, but about later, or maybe even soon. It takes place in a world where the wall is built, grotesque and terrifying crimes are taking place right over it, and the drugs and bodies are pouring into the states, operating as a manifestation of Donald Trump’s bigget nightmare.
The CIA’s involvement in the Central American drug trade seems to be shifting back into the mainstream. There was 2014’s Kill the Messenger, 2015’s Freeway: Crack in the System (discussed previously), 2007’s non-fiction "Legacy of Ashes", and they just keep coming. I have not yet read Gary Webb’s "Dark Alliance", but I am growing more familiar with the story, especially since enough time has passed where, with more details coming out, people are comfortable talking about it without being branded as conspiracists. I can’t recall Matt Graver’s (Josh Brolin) precise line, but he essentially explains the role the CIA had in the 1980s cocaine trade. Simply put - Reagan supported the Freedom Fighters trying to overthrow the Sandinista Government in Nicaragua, who were financed by the cocaine drug trade, which the CIA was willing to look the other way upon in order to help prevent the spread of communism up toward the states.
For anyone who thinks the Communistic threat was illusory I do beg you to consider what it would look like if South America was overrun by the ‘Red’ scare. I understand the facts as to why this shouldn’t have been too serious of a concern, except that Reagan and others did see this as legitimate threat. Right or wrong, they were scared and you can’t stop someone from getting scared, no matter how rational the explanation, and the irrational things they might do. Sicario is exploring an alternative to that history, in which the CIA is now assisting certain Mexican Cartels with their drug trafficking in order to prevent the chaos from entering the States.
Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) has been working in the states as an FBI Agent focused on missing persons. Her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) is an Iraq Veteran with a law degree from University of North Carolina. They’ve been doing things by the book, but the CIA is in need of a domestic federal partnership in order to conduct operations in the states (which is illegal, as the CIA can only operate on foreign soil). We know where the situation is going, as Macer disagrees with how the law’s being bent in the CIA’s favor. Her superior officer back at the FBI Dave Jennings (Victor Garber) knows that the bureau's making little progress and that playing ball with the CIA is inevitable. What this means for Americans, given the CIAs use of torture and other questionable techniques is precisely what the film’s exploring.
What I enjoyed most was the balance the movie struck between the two ideas - domestic safety versus the rule of law - never choosing one side over the other. Do I really believe that I as a middle-class, individual working in entertainment, have to worry about getting kidnapped by a government agency and getting the shit kicked out of me if I don’t talk? Probably not. But what about those who exist in that gray ether - who might be US citizens that might have relationships over the border to the cartels, however benign? Is it worth torturing a single innocent person to get information?
Now I don’t believe in torture, but I also just don’t know all of the facts, and neither does any other uninvolved person. I think anyone who believes and can prove that nothing substantial was ever captured from torture are probably as - maybe not equally, but still - wrong as those who think it solves all our problems. The issue is that any gray area flexibility with torture creates a slippery slope that may not be cause to worry now, but could be in the future as the bar is increasingly pushed. Would checks and balances ever allow that? That’s where the issue is about how much you trust our system of government. Because when you see what’s going on over on the other side of the border, and some of it starts getting uncovered over here, you can understand how some don’t see the Texas border as strictly defined. Disagree if you want, but I bet you’d never find a unanimous opinion down there where it’s happening. Some might say there isn’t much of a problem, and others would say there is very much a problem. The answer is somewhere in between.
That’s why I enjoy how the movie ends. Kate knows that she can’t win against the Cartles, nor the CIA. The best she can do is try and elect leaders that will ensure the law is ethical. In a great scene between Reggie, Kate, and Jennings we discover that the law has been revised and allows for what the CIA is doing. It’s no longer a question of breaking it or not. The only thing they can do is appeal to those higher up, which probably don’t have time for them, and most Americans won’t care about what they have to say because they’re safe and they see what’s going on down there as a threat and worth the breakdown of certain liberties. And yet when the boundaries are pushed a bit too far, the best you can do is petition for change and hope that someone will listen.
Dennis Villeneuve is the most exciting new director come out in a long time. I’m trying to think of the last director I’ve been this excited about; the type where I want to see all his films by name alone. He took a simple story that often ends up with the character finally getting revenge, revealing all that’s wrong, or at least resting assured that they told the truth. Kate doesn’t fall into that. She’s smart enough to see the practicality. There’s a lot to discuss in this movie. Even while writing this I’ve changed my opinion numerous times. It avoids idealism, instead offering a gritty and terrifying portrait of how things could be and what should be done when, if ever, it actually happens.
BELOW: Probably an obvious choice, but the best scene from the movie
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