John Parker August 13: Sicario (2015)
This film, aptly titled in Spanish, follows previous War on Drugs films that Michelle Brown talks about in “Mapping discursive closings in the war on drugs.” Through righteous FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a rising star in the enterprise, we learn of the War on Drugs as a series of covert operations involving the CIA, local and federal authorities, the army, even foreign governments. Brown asserts that the war has become a combining of “large structural forces of sovereignty, inequality and criminality.” Sovereignty means that the country, namely the United States, is under attack, hence the name of the Harrison Ford film that she mentions, A Clear and Present Danger. Macer must confront a new concept of criminality where the supposed good side is prone to breaking the law when it has to, as does Harrison Ford’s character in A Clear and Present Danger. These two naïve characters must come to terms with a new Michelle Brown corrupt society where the lines between victim and perpetrator are strained.
The character that challenges Macer the most is Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro. He is the hit man, the victim, the mercenary, the Soldier (the title of Sicario 2 being released next year). Interestingly, Del Toro plays a Mexican policeman/informant in Traffic, another anti War on Drugs film analyzed by Brown, who calls the border between the United States and Mexico “permeable” and the characters wrought with “moral ambiguity.” The result of corruption at various levels of society results in “cultural demonization.” Everybody is bad. Macer and Harrison Ford’s understanding of their quickly evolving situations are impeded by the social relations that the new society imposes on them. Military metaphors and rhetoric dominate the discussion and restrict any complete understanding about the War on Drugs. “You’re either with us, or against us,” to quote a 2000-era American president. The other main character of Sicario, Matt played by Josh Brolin, is the CIA/military easy-to-understand manipulator who Macer eventually figures out. His use of language is a good example of the military slogans that simplify the modern era of drug cartels that battle one another for territory in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Mexico and the southern United States.
So what about Sicario’s portrayal of south of the border? In read somewhere that the mayor of Juarez was concerned about the film’s portrayal of his city. Who wouldn’t be? Mutilated bodies hanging from bridges. Gunfire, including small rockets, lighting up the night sky. Carloads of well armed baddies. “This won’t even make the papers here” response to Macer’s questioning of the team’s neutralizing the tattooed badidos near the border. I think I prefer Elvis and his mariachi buddies singing about siestas.
John Parker August 7: Walker (1987)
I enjoyed the film tremendously for both its cinematographic and literary merit. I thought the acting was excellent, as were the music and décor. In fact, as I learned later, Alex Cox filmed this in Nicaragua and during a time of civil strife with Sandinistas battling Contras and Ronald Reagan pleading for America to help the “brave Freedom Fighters.” Yaz mentions that this is an American-help-goes-bad story and calls Walker a “cruel dictator” who believes that because of God’s design, “victory is with us.” My interest in the film, however, is really more for its literary reference, as I will try to convince later on. I may be going out on a limb here, but not too far I hope. I’d love to develop this into my final project for Jon.
I see this film as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). The helicopter that arrives with American soldiers emphasizes a connection to the film Apocalypse Now (1979). The modern magazines and cars that we see previously prepare us for this highly dramatic and over-the-top incursion near the end. In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz, an English ivory trader named Mr. Kurtz wreaks havoc with the local population in the jungles of British colonial Africa. Conrad’s denunciation of colonialism is replayed later when Marlon Brandon plays Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now dealing with the Vietnam War. One of his most famous lines is “the horror, the horror,” right out of Conrad. Aex Cox’s William Walker is yet another mercenary with flexible ideals who Nayid says “takes power by force and changes the rules of engagement.” Walker and his men, in an attempt to create a “more civilized nation,” re-establish slavery and are overtly contempt of the local Indigenous population.
Conrad, through the narrator of Heart of Darkness, attacks colonialism and its supposed civilizing plan. He even equates civilized people with the savages, the city of London with the isolated wilds of Africa, the intentions of colonialism with the destruction of people native to the land. Mr. Kurtz says: “Exterminate all the brutes.” He leaves traces of desolation everywhere he has been and eventually becomes an embarrassing problem to the powers that be; they eventually abandon him and even want him dead. Crazy Walker, hungry for power, abuses the locals and is constantly reviewing his political and moral agendas. Like Fred Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, he goes crazy in an exotic land that abounds with riches for his taking. He eventually loses everything. He is abandoned by the society he tried to establish and by those who initially sponsored his mission that became his quest for self-aggrandizement. Like “Wrath of God,” as Don Lope de Aguirre called himself, like Mr. Kurtz and later Colonel Kurtz, he cannot contain the havoc that he has caused.