Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sicario (2015)
Reviewed by Anthony Servante


After rising through the ranks of her male-dominated profession, idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) receives a top assignment. Recruited by mysterious government official Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), Kate joins a task force for the escalating war against drugs. Led by the intense and shadowy Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the team travels back-and-forth across the U.S.-Mexican border, using one cartel boss (Bernardo Saracino) to flush out a bigger one (Julio Cesar Cedillo).

War Crimes is not an oxymoron to many people, many of whom believe that Military Intelligence is. At some point in our savage past, somebody thought that if mankind were to survive its own savagery, there must be rules to limit or protect the losers of the savage hunts or games. In swordplay and gun duels, you don’t attack your opponent in the back. The Marquis of Queensbury brought regulations to fisticuffs. Savagery became civilized, and still it is not considered oxymoronic. 

Dirty Harry-The Ultimate Anti-Hero

This is where the gray areas come in. The good guy in the white hat and the villain in the black hat have both been challenged by the person with the gray hat. In the 1960s and 70s, he was known as the anti-hero, itself an oxymoronic phrase. But after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, we honored our cops and firefighters as good guys, and the white hats made a brief comeback. However, with the questionable deaths of young men at the hands of police enforcers recently, the cops have fallen out of favor. Political Correctness and self-righteous activists manipulate the social media to erase any trace of loyalty to the white hats of heroes.

Heroes Fallen Out of Favor

Which brings us back to war crimes. In times of war, what is the function of rules? In one of my favorite quotes, “It’s like giving out speeding tickets at the Indy 500” (Apocalypse Now 1979). Yet soldiers do face criminal charges for breaking the rules of war. In the war on drugs, a question is raised: What if we change the rules to control the war rather than win it?

Shades of Justice

In Sicario (2015), starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, the war on drugs is revisited. In the opening scene we see the F.B.I. find dozens of corpses in a “death house”; we also witness the booby-trap that kills two law enforcement officers on the scene in Arizona. Blunt’s character, squad leader, in invited to join a joint agency task force to fight the drug cartels on a different front, one that promises to be more effective than the traditional law and order procedures that pave the way to certain death for the good guys. She quickly learns that the bad guys don’t play by any rules and that’s why they are winning. Brolin points out that as long as 20% of the US population continues to buy drugs, the good guys will always keep losing. He offers an alternative.

The Good Guys?

Inglorious Basterds (2009), the premise was postulated: What if there were a squad of soldiers who would match the NAZIs in World War II atrocity for atrocity. The killers are good guys; they kill NAZIS, only more horrifically, until the German enemy fears the retaliations of this death squad. Brolin leads such a squad against the cartels, using the technology of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the D.E.A., with a handful of hand-picked “vigilantes” and agency “volunteers”. Blunt slowly learns about this squad’s activities as she acts as the movie audience’s eyes and ears; as she learns, we learn too. As she reacts with distain at the torture, betrayal, and lawlessness, we too react. We do not cheer the good guys, for they are not good, nor do we boo the bad guys, for they are not bad. In this world of gray warfare, it’s about control of the upper echelon of the cartels at the expense of the lower levels, even the corrupt cops and innocent bystanders. Collateral damage is part of the job.

Bloody Justice Basterd Style

And the job gets done. Blunt is torn between playing by the rules with anarchy as she is slowly swallowed by the monster that she tries to fight. It’s just a matter of time before she’s aiming her gun at the good guys and bad guys alike.

Emily Blunt Caught in the Middle

Benicio Del Toro plays a mysterious consultant for the Brolin death squad. His past begins to unravel as Blunt demands more intel on the squad she’s working with. Brolin gives her just enough info to quell her doubts, but the cumulative picture of the consultant grows more sinister as she gets closer to him. He saves her life, but does so to gain intel on the cartel. He’s a good guy with questionable motives. When we finally learn Del Toro’s role in the story, the war on drugs is a battlefield of grayness. Even as we know these tactics work, we must either turn a blind eye or join the monster. Del Toro suggests that Blunt find a little town where the law is still black and white, that this war is for wolves and she’d be eaten alive. Ultimately Blunt makes her choice, but either way she chose, we would be disappointed, for in a gray war, only the drug addicts win.

Ultimately, this is Del Toro's Movie

The cops in real life face this struggle every day. The civilians sometimes root for them when their hats are white, as they did after 9-11. But when the war turns gray, even the cops are as bad as the villains in the eyes of the finger-pointers who need the cops the most. Sicario is a reminder that we get the justice we deserve in times of drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and corruption in the government. It also reminds us that we get the heroes we deserve as well, oft-times in the villains themselves. Sicario is an epic tale of the war on drugs. Don’t go in expecting heroes and villains. You just may end up rooting for the wrong side.

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