#TBThursday Review: ‘SICARIO’ and the Grittiness of the U.S./Mexico Border

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As SICARIO’s deadly grasp has been rolling out into the theaters over the past few weeks, there has been a dirty grime that we have not been able to get out of our brains. Denis Villeneuve’s story about crossing borders literally and ethically has a lived-in feel that exudes character, and it’s definitely going to appear on a few of our end of year lists.

The Mexico/United States border is a place filled with mystery, intrigue, (some) filth and a seemingly infinite amount of story-telling capability. From tales of the drug cartels (TRAFFIC) to stories of love (DESPERADO), it all seems to wrap back around to crime. We chose a few picks that are a bit off the cuff and some old familiar favorites that accentuate the mystique of the border, which typically ends in a drug trade– but mostly you trade the drugs for your life.

lone-star-mcconaugheyLONE STAR (1996)

Before the “McConauassiance,” and even before Matthew McConaughey starred in a string of romantic comedies, he played a key role in independent filmmaker John Sayles’ LONE STAR.

Unfolding like a novel, LONE STAR is a deep and intricate story of deceit depicting the life in a Texas border town through the eyes of Sheriff Sam Deeds (in an incredible bit of acting from Chris Cooper) as he investigates a 25-year-old murder that his legendary father/former sheriff Buddy Deeds (McConaughey) couldn’t solve. Through this framework, Sayles informs us of the day-to-day life in Frontera, getting to know the odd cast of characters.

Sayles isn’t widely known but his involvement in independent cinema made the medium what is has become today. With this script, Sayles captures the nuances of this microcosm of Americana life with a hint of magical realism. Roger Ebert said “LONE STAR contains so many riches, it humbles ordinary movies.” If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.
– Cole Clay

hero_EB20090401REVIEWS904019992ARSIN NOMBRE (2009)

Before filmmaker Cary Fukunaga directed McConaughey to spectacular effect in TRUE DETECTIVE, he rode atop freight trains from Southern Mexico to the U.S. border with hundred of undocumented immigrants in order to research for his unflinching film titled SIN NOMBRE. That research paid off in a big way, as he, of course, landed a directing gig with the award-winning TRUE DETECTIVE and this year’s BEASTS OF NO NATION.

In SIN NOMBRE, we see the emotional and suspenseful process immigrants go through for a better life. It tells a visually compelling story that takes audiences on a journey from the streets of Tapachula and Chiapas to the Mexico/Texas border. In doing so, SIN NOMBRE brings viewers into the underworld of Mexican youth gangs, while providing a window into the brutal trip from southern Mexico taken by many Central American migrants to reach the United States. It’s powerful stuff.
– Preston Barta

CKXSiagWcAA3706TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)

“All border towns bring out the worst in a country.” – Mike Vargas.

If we’re talking about films that have to do with the Mexican-American border, look no further than the last bastion of classic film noir known as TOUCH OF EVIL. Directed by Orson Welles, the film has a seedy connotation throughout as Mexican narcotics officer Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) squares off against American detective Capt. Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles). In fact, the film starts out with a couple getting killed by a car bomb, only the bomb was planted in Mexico and exploded on U.S. soil. Vargas’ wife, Susan (Janet Leigh), would become a bargaining chip as it relates to two crimes: the aforementioned car bombing, as well as his testifying in a local crime boss.

It has the classic double-crosses one would associate with the genre, but flips the script in terms of conventions. For one, the American detective is the villain, trying to cover-up his crimes any way possible, from framing innocent victims to killing his associates. Secondly, there is no femme fatale to speak of in the film. From the opening tracking shot to the shoebox in the bathroom, Welles goes to great lengths to get the audience to sympathize with the Mexican cop over the supposed compatriot, even putting a beloved actor like Heston in brownface to portray Vargas. The film is a classic through and through, and that’s not just my game leg talking.
– Jared McMillan

SICARIO is playing in theaters today.