Los Niños Sicarios, a film by Rob Lambert, captivatingly transports us to a world of Breaking Bad calibre that I for one know very little about. The title refers to child hitmen, who are brought under the exploitative wing of Mexican drug cartels for their dirty purposes.
The film’s genius lies in its blurring of the line between appearance and reality. Our protagonist seems like an ordinary American or Mexican-American teenager, playing football with his friends in the suburbs. He’s smiling and enjoying himself, until he approaches his phone and he’s immediately hardened, almost even before looking at it. The cryptic text he receives does not instill confidence in us viewers. Underneath what we would perceive as a ‘normal’ teenager is a military-trained assassin. We already know what we’re expecting because of the opening scene of dialogue that follows two Mexicans ambiguously discussing a hit, confirmed by the request for a “clean job” and a balaclava-clad lad descending gloomily on a barren location. In the football scene, the young boy promptly picks up his bike upon getting the text. I find it eerie that, as he sets off on his murderous mission, one of the road signs points to Columbine, a name that now predominantly connotes gun violence. Even if we didn’t suspect the intent of this boy, the music that would be fitting to any crime show is quite suggestive. His digs are swanky, with white and animal print carpet and plasma televisions decking out the walls (one solely used for CCTV surveillance). The roommates aren’t speaking to each other though, as they just smoke pot and play video games. They live together not because they’re friends, but because of their common purpose. Because of their status as being ‘on-call’.
The act of killing here is painted as nothing more than habitual and part of a routine. The teenager changes into his black clothes just as one would for a waitressing job. He unpacks his hordes of ammo as if they’re tools for a mechanic’s job. At this point, it doesn’t seem to faze him. He travels to a plush area of Paradise Valley in Arizona and does what had been asked of him within minutes. He doesn’t even blink an eye at the bus stop as a police car sirens past him. Soon though, I realise I was wrong. It affects him far more than his appearance lets on. We only get an insight into the destructive mental torment this causes the teenager towards the end, where his internal battles are illustrated in unwelcomed flashbacks of a past hit. He may be a serial killer now, but he was also very recently an empathetic, solicitous young adolescent, probably hardened by fraught circumstances and taken advantage of, so he unavoidably suffers the torture of guilt. Often, the niños sicarios (child hitmen) are from poor provinces or rural areas of Mexico, or from a broken family, so the lure of good money can fog naïve minds. Depending on the target, the payout can be between $10,000 and $50,000 for a kill. Perhaps that’s why he seems so melancholy as he goes for his phone at the beginning; the device is a constant reminder that he leads a deplorably phoney, not to mention immoral, life.
One of our protagonists roommate’s phone chimes back at the house with a similar mysterious text, and the process begins again, like arising from bed on a Monday morning for work. The housemate watches a news broadcast about the murder of who we just saw being shot, but he watches it with dead eyes. It does not deter him from what he’s presumably about to do.
Los Niños Sicarios is a great, but dismal, insight into a side of drug culture that less of us are familiar with, despite child soldiers being a worldwide affliction. Particularly as it happens here in America. As the credits roll, we see clips of real life print newspaper articles and mug shots of some ‘little assassins’, stressing that this is not just Breaking Bad. It was an important task that Lambert took on portraying this unfortunate phenomenon, but he executed it impressively.