After his Oscar-nominated Incendies, Denis Villeneuve returns with a drug traffic, political drama about the relation between North and South America and the globalized myopia in understanding personal and juridical revenge. Sicario (2015) is an outstanding film about the liminality of the act of killing when the crime is actually just a way of mediating power between two co-dependent world-orders (the North and the South). The assassin (Benicio del Toro) is a Mexican working and co-operating with the American forces for a chance to revenge his murdered family. “Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do” he tells a young FBI agent as they cross the border between U.S. and Mexico. The director really manages to create the shift between the two realities by means of the visual construction of violence. The inner and elegant violence of American forces entering Mexico is mirrored by the publicly exorcised violence of the South, where mutilated bodies are hung from bridges just to send a message.
The exercise of political perception by means of looking outside the frame is turned into a statement from the very opening of the film. A camera is placed at the periphery of what seems a quiet, peaceful neighborhood, where only a wavy bicycle offers signs of life, but after pulling back in order to encompass a larger perspective, we suddenly see FBI agents in the midst of an operation. There is also an interesting juxtaposition, at one point, between the “bird’s eye” view of the Mexican border and the sudden cut to the shadow of the car wheels running towards a certain game of doing justice they were trying to catch up. A hierarchical organization of the drug trade world is more suitable for the American forces as it is easier to orchestrate than a decentralized force operating in the world. The cruelty necessary to shape the drug trade into a political body is subtly drawn by the film as the fight against crime becomes a strategic search for the evil beyond borders, or the hidden evil beyond the usual faces of crime. The aim of the American forces is to catch the men who are really “responsible” for the drug related killing of two officers. This “responsibility” is not immediate, but it is rooted in a spell of organized crime that stretches back to a single person that becomes the target of the operation, because their aim is to catch the head of the organization. The film shows that justice is as phantasmagorical as fear, following a ghost that can offer accountability a territory and a face. Mexico is presented as a place where violence is out in the streets, so accustomed to a “cartel” reality that the movie pays special attention to a kids’ football game, where the ball seems to echo the explosions taking place nearby in the neighborhood. There is also a key scene which places a beautiful sunset as background for the wondering helmets of the officers preparing to cross the border by night.
Inside the film, weakness is constructed as that inner voice of a culturally programed rightness which is unable to make sense of its own principle when confronted with the unsynthesized effects of good and evil, just and unjust. The ‘war on drugs’ is united in purpose with the path of personal revenge in the film’s narrative and two different codes of understanding justice are suddenly intertwined showing that on legal or an illegal basis the search for justice is the same both in the Western culture of revenge or in the payback violence of the cartel.
The border seems to separate the two orders, but in fact it does not mark discontinuity between the two worlds, but a continuity between power structures, where violence does not vary according to degrees, but inside the shapes it takes. There is not an inner isolated violence of the South which can be traced regionally or ethnically. There is a continuity between a violence of the “civilized” North that is comprised in the functioning mechanism of the social reality itself and an externalized violence of the South, where brutality is placed inside the external agency of individuals. The last lines seem to state the politics of cruelty as the act of accepting that inhumanity produced by and for the game: You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now. The land of wolves does not have a place on the map, because violence is not a matter of region anymore, but a question of the translation of regions in the shadow of one another. Sicario will leave you in the dark because it is like the soundtrack that points to an image which is never truly there, because the accusation is blind.