The New Narcocinema

click to enlarge No Country for Old Men - COURTESY
No Country for Old Men

Gritty, low-budget, sometimes silly narcocinema has been active south of the border since the '70s — for a solid treatment of the form, see Vice's mini-doc from 2013.

But in the last decade, the violence, corruption and absurdity of the War on Drugs has seen an upswing of creativity and big budget attention, from award-guaranteed projects like Sicario to flop-house material like Arnold Schwarzenegger's shoot-'em-up border flicks in 2013 and 2014.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Coen brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy touched most gracefully on a foundational trope of narcocinema and an unfortunate truth for cartel victims — no matter your level of capability, there's always an even nastier hitman willing to make a dollar. With a dead-eyed leer and an unfortunate haircut, Javier Bardem played that bigger, badder fish to perfection, earning him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

click to enlarge Breaking Bad - COURTESY
Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad (2008)

Though Breaking Bad found its home 270 miles north of the border in Albuquerque, the tragedy of Walter White gave faces to the system of the drug trade. Each business shake-up or low-level gang hit in the ABQ generated a chaotic and unforeseeable ripple on the supply chain — watch that trigger finger, Jesse! Working with such violent disciples of the Holy Dollar, there's no bad deed that goes unpunished.

click to enlarge The Counselor - COURTESY
The Counselor

The Counselor (2013)

After the success of No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy got directly in the writer's seat for his first original script. Directed by Ridley Scott, The Counselor follows its eponymous hero (Michael Fassbender) as he and his wife (Penélope Cruz) do business with ridiculously good-looking cartel affiliates including Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem, whose hairline and orange timbre brings to mind a crime lord version of Nic Cage. Despite the blinding star power, The Counselor couldn't live up to its critical or commercial expectations.

click to enlarge Narcos - COURTESY

Narcos (2015)

Set in Brazil, Narcos is further south on the production chain, but makes the list for its binge-watching potential and the high profile of its antagonist. Directed by José Padilha, the Netflix series tells the fictionalized tale of cocaine Robin Hood Pablo Escobar. With a net worth of $30 to $50 billion — it's hard to calculate the net value of mountains of coke and money — Escobar was the richest criminal in history.

click to enlarge The Cartel - COURTESY
The Cartel

The Cartel (In Development)

Inspired by the letdown of The Counselor or by the tunneling ways of the Sinaloa cartel, Ridley Scott is back for more cross-border conflict. Based on Don Winslow's novel of the same name, Scott takes on a narrative based on El Chapo, the billionaire kingpin who dug his way out of max security via a tunnel just below the shower this June.

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