Alejandro el Sicario

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.

2 thoughts on “Alejandro el Sicario

  1. Jon

    “I think I prefer Elvis and his mariachi buddies singing about siestas.”

    Haha! Yes, alongside Fun in Acapulco, we read about Mexico’s attempts to enhance its image as a destination for international tourism. We can doubt that Sicario made many people want to holiday in Juarez.

    But taking your comment another way, we might also note that we don’t simply choose to watch (or like) films based on their (supposed) accuracy or fidelity to the truth. We have other criteria.

  2. samuel waller

    Interesting points on the rhetoric used by characters to exemplify the US reaction to the problems of the drug trade. I wonder if Mexico describes the violence drug trade similarly. You did a good job of connecting the reading which I believe is 10 years old to the current media portrayals of drug wars.
    The police officer from Mexico represented someone closer to an average joe as we are able to see his home life and family. This is a stark contrast to the American men shown in the film. His fate, nevertheless, demonstrates the extent of the people involved. While there are the outliers— the Alejandros— most of the people affected are normal people trying to take care of a family and play soccer with their kid.


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