Top 5: Films Involving The Mexican Cartel
List by Aaron Haughton
The war on drugs has been an on-going conflict that involves a lot of brutal acts of violence. Although Mexican drug cartels and drug trafficking organizations have existed for several decades, their influence has increased significantly since the demise of the Colombian Cali and Medellin cartels in the 1990s. They now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market (as of 2007 statistics) and control 90% of the cocaine entering the United States.
This has led to U.S. involvement to counteract the frequent smuggling, which in turn has led to a lot of blood spilled on both ends of the spectrum. As many films, both dramas and documentaries, have shown us, no one comes out of these operations looking dignified.
To supplement the release of Sicario: Day of the Soldado, we decided to countdown our five favorite films involving the Mexican cartel:
- 5: The Counselor (2013)
Despite being a box office bomb that was panned by critics and general audiences alike, there's a lot to love here, like the perfect blend of Cormac McCarthy's starkly cold bleakness combined with Ridley Scott's prowess for the visually chic — not to mention the stellar cast. For us, The Counselor contains several of the most brutal scenes of violence, even darker than the that of No Country For Old Men, and one of the funniest scenes we’ve ever seen — and, yes, we're referring to when Bardem tells Fassbender about Diaz screwing his car, going so far as to call it a sucker fish, which still to this day, even typing this, makes our gut hurt from laughter. The film is a potent reminder that the border situation, much like McCarthy's view on the world, is broken and tragic and not fair; it does not get much bleaker than that.
- 4: Cartel Land (2015)
Cartel Land is a raw, bitter and unflinching glimpse into the lives of Mexican drug traffickers, and its immersion is utterly gripping. It also provides an investigative look at the vigilante efforts to put an end to the organized crime at the Mexican-American border, and it seems to suggest that these efforts, no matter how well intentioned, are fated to fall prey to the same selfishness and big-money greed as the cartels. As disturbing as it is fascinating, the film is a wholly cinematic experience, and it effectively shows us that there is nothing black and white about this situation, only a sea of grey.
- 3: El Mariachi (1993)
Made for a measly seven grand (almost half of which was raised by participating in experimental clinical drug testing) and filmed in only 2 weeks, Robert Rodriguez made massive waves with his debut feature El Mariachi. While the film doesn't heavily feature the cartels, it does involve a megalomaniacal drug lord, which is good enough for us! It showcases an Mexican town in the pocket of a drug kingpin, and it cleverly twists the genre convention of mistaken identity. Full of verve and swagger and delivered in breakneck speed, El Mariachi is a massively entertaining cinematic achievement in the ways of action cinema.
- 2: Sicario (2015)
The subtlety and nuance of Sicario is what makes it so great, and the way it tells a fairly familiar story through the eyes of its innocent protagonist (played by the always amazing Emily Blunt) is masterful and completely engaging. The film is riddled with moments of tension so great that you'll be sweating and hanging from the edge of your seat — and some scenes involve parked cars which is a testament to its grip. It stares into the abyss as the abyss stares back with a stoic death gaze, and it doesn't offer any easy answers to this hopeless situation. Like Cartel Land, Sicario presents a true-to-life grey, wherein everything is more desperate and complicated than it seems on the surface.
- 1: Traffic (2001)
Along with a star-studded cast, Steven Soderbergh's Traffic shows us, in an all encompassing way, not just the futility and hypocrisy of the anti-drug war, but also the awful human cost of it all. The film is highly ambitious, massive in scope, and extremely effective in its execution, never stooping so low to become preachy, prove a point, or push an agenda. Traffic isn't just one film, but three separate films beautifully interwoven with their own charged rhythm and explosive payoff, heightened by a phenomenal cast, including Michael Douglas, Benicio del Toro, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle and Luis Guzmán. Complex and artful, Traffic is our favorite film involving the Mexican cartel and this fruitless endeavor we call the war on drugs.
What do you think? Did we leave your favorite Mexican cartel film off our list? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!