Sicario (/si.ˈka.ɾjo/) – Spanish – A hired hitman or assassin, commonly used in Latin America
In the hit movie, Sicario, the world of Mexican drug cartels is brought into sharp and brutal focus. Moving across the Mexico-US border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico the viewer sees the violence of the cartels, the poverty of those trapped in this violent cycle and the complex geopolitics at work in the region.
The world of Sicario is Mexico at its worst, but how close does it come to the reality?
Borders and Barrios
Sicario focuses on the drug cartels and the violence that has been caused by their turf war, however, underlying the movie are some of the biggest issues facing both USA and Mexico; immigration, poverty and one of the world’s most contested borders. It is the border that acts as the central point around which the plotline navigates itself.
The US-Mexican border is one of the longest land borders in the world and it is one of the few that separates a world-leading developed economy and a ‘developing market’. These circumstances have created a unique set of social and political issues that exacerbate the cartel induced violence that Sicario explores.
The border is both closely controlled and closely monitored and, as a result, it has created a line between the haves and the have-nots. On one side of the border is the world’s largest economy where the persistent concept of the American Dream continues to draw immigrants to the country, and on the other side is a nation where poverty is commonplace and the social and political problems have caused thousands of migrant to rush northwards. This desperation can force many to resort to chasing illegal routes into America and these routes are inevitably controlled by the drug cartels, such as the Juarez and Sinaloa Cartels.
The mass migration of Mexicans northwards has provided couriers for the cartels, a source of income and a distraction, behind which the cartels have built the drugs trade. Whilst the attention is drawn towards those trying to make a new life in America, the cartels are finding new ways to reach their customers across the border.
As a result of the mass migration the US government constructed a barrier along the length of the border. This high wall is one of the most securitised borders in the world today and it has created a division across the region. It is a statement that America has possession and control over the border. It argues that America needs to be protected from the ‘threat’ of Mexico and that the people of Mexico are somehow ‘lesser’.
The border disenfranchises Mexicans. It makes them pawns in the geopolitical game of America and it forces those, like the illegal immigrants and the cartels, to subvert the legal procedures and explore alternative routes into the USA. It has created a business out of the need to get across the border.
Both the cinematography within Sicario and the main narrative explore the relationship between American and Mexico across the border. The sweeping shots of the border shows the physically imposing structure of the barrier complex, but it is the narrative themes that explore the barrier psyche. Despite the fact that the USA has no jurisdiction across the border it does not stop the central characters from carrying out their mission in Mexico and when these same characters talk about or view Ciudad Juarez they talk of the threat. This barrier says two things by America about Mexico. Firstly, ‘we’ are in charge and we run this border. Secondly, this side of the border is safe and the other side, in Ciudad Juarez, is dangerous and unstable.
Throughout Sicario there are touches of the poverty that drives the drug trade and makes many resort to corruption or employment by the cartels. There is an understanding of the complex geopolitical relationships that exist between the two nations and the way America has sought to control this border region.
Although it is not a film about the border controls or illegal immigration, or indeed the poverty that characterises so much of Mexico, behind all the action scenes and set-piece gun fights is the political reality of life on the borders and in the barrios. This reality is what drives the events in Sicario and in modern Mexico drives the drug trade and drug cartels.