- and presented with the presumption of a reader’s familiarity with said film as well as the #Oscarssowhite “controversy”)
Consider the first wave and initial engagement of Denis Villeneuve’s tactical masterpiece Sicario. A sloped desert terrain slowly inhabited and overtaken by dark figures armed to the teeth. Not unlike a pack of wolves, in tandem, they advance on what appears to be a suburb unaware. By way of contrast, we are introduced to our heroine, who does not advance by her own steam but by machine. Like us, her audience, she sits silently, surrounded by others, anxious and in wait as a protective beam envelopes her from the heavens. A metaphorical projector? In cinematic vernacular, this luminescence assures us that our heroine, Kate Macer, is not only one with us but also with the lit path: inherently righteous. Is it fair or fitting that this cinematic insurgency finishes with her disabused of that indignation and proven ineffectual in redressing the fallout that forced her introduction on us in the first place? Well, with what words are her efforts derided as useless? “You are not a wolf. This is a land of wolves now.” And how is she proven ineffectual? By her own inaction. And how are we, the audience, indicted? By immersion. Made complicit to comprehend the full complication of her predicament, we are powerless to place blame unless we ourselves act. This is confrontational filmmaking facing down a multifaceted cluster-fuck that calls for clear-eyed confrontation and not the histrionic codling that came before. So, fitting? I’d say so. As for fair? Fuck fair.
Cinema has historically served us this same subject matter with a risible side order of morality, a Hollywood chaser, if you will, to aid in the digestion. Our clearly superior sense of Law & Order has steeled us to stomach the requisite senseless violence but only in expectation of its own third-act just deserts. Once justice has prevailed and our status quo is regaled we can flail from the multiplex and return to the mall unburdened. Unseemly edges are so often whittled and varnished, we no longer see the cartoonish veneer; nevertheless, a vanguard of our psyche, it shimmers up the nearest flagpole to assure our safety. That is, until a seminal work such as Sicario refuses to salute by stripping it all away.
A fixated flight path in silhouette is held under surveillance until the elements dictate its metaphorical distinction. Dissipating to nothingness against a ceaseless sea of sand, all we are left with is a pitiless, unaffected landscape. With our own shadow rescinded we are traceless and abandoned to focus on what we’re truly up against: nature. When a precision procession of identical of vehicles form a black snake that slithers onto foreign soil, carving a swathe with seeming impunity, we should ascertain that America has the tactical expertise and militaristic might to make right. But touching down in the choppy wake and subatomic drone of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s embedded score, we find no soil to speak of and subsequently no snake, only a maze with no beginning middle or end. “Nothing will happen here,” states our nearly mute “advisor” Alejandro. This is how to a five star outfit, as spearheaded by Denis Villeneuve and exacted by Roger Deakins, cut clear to capture a cinematic objective.
Heads buried in the sand of the genre’s less than subtle predecessors, the initiated may seek out that cliché they assume will be smoked out any moment as motifs set up strike formation from under their radar. Microscopic motes of dust at first go unnoticed, infiltrating iridescence once ethereal and rarified. While acclimating to its impurity, our air is further befouled by anxious plumes from our own heroine’s Indian Creek cigarettes. She chain smokes unaware her brand has conjured a shadow counterpart across the border, but perhaps we consider it. For Kate Macer to count on this ever-escalating crisis to culminate in a US courtroom is to discount the collusion necessary to create truly astronomical capital. She views “The War On Drugs” with the same hoople-headed sincerity on display in the latest of Oscar® controversies.
“These decisions are made far from here, by officials elected to office not appointed to them.” -Dave Jennings (to Kate Macer)
To consider the Academy Awards® anything purer than a politicized popularity contest of geriatric proportions is to mistake its true nature. Those who assume it has a responsibility to social justice or should accommodate affirmative action, confuse it with a public trust. Contrary to the current public outcry, our tax dollars do not subsidize the Academy. Its officials are not elected. It’s a self-regulated, self-promoting, private enterprise. The award itself represents an increasingly calcified consensus opinion culled from a constituency of the catered to. Devoid of a lucid point of view or visible/viable criteria, its only relevance resides its pageant’s production value, a paean to its own prejudices, which seemingly have less to do with racism than narcissism. Of the last four Best Picture winners: “Birdman”, “12 Years A Slave”, “Argo” and “The Artist” respectively, only one is not about their own industry. With that considered, if you still contend that 6,000 “industry professionals” can be trusted to implement a credible cinematic standard while lavished in the largesse of competing studio interests, just expect to be Blindsided.
“You’re asking me how a watch works. For now just watch the time.” -Alejandro
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® is an organization whose total membership is 94% white and 77% male with a median age of 62 but more tellingly: 0% ever have to pay for a movie ticket as 100% are insiders. To further politicize a pre-compromised process with some additional, non-artistic, conditional criteria is to expedite the eroding pretense of its premise. Mistaking its true nature has nurtured an illusion of power that simply will not withstand the publicized switching of hands. In this regard it resembles another institution ingratiated into our culture and allowed to flourish sans scrutiny for most of its history: religion.
And just as the Fairytale spell of “fairness” is proven to hold no sway over a private popularity contest, the notion of justice in “The War On Drugs” is savagely dispelled in Sicario. For a Country Club to consider filmmaking of its caliber “Oscar worthy” their standards would have to rise. Considerably.