Film Review – Sicario: Day Of The Soldado

DIRECTED BY: Stefano Sollima

STARRING: Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, Howard Ferguson Jr., Jacqueline Torres, Jake Picking, Raoul Max Trujillo, Ian Bohen and Bruno Bichir

 

SYNOPSIS

The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.

Following on from the first Sicario film, FBI Agent Matt Graver is called upon by the US Secretary of Defense to take extreme measures to combat Mexican drug cartels as they’re set to be placed on the terrorist list after a catastrophic suicide bombing on U.S soil. They decide the best course of action is to start a war between major cartels, leading to Graver bringing back Alejandro Gillick and the mission involves kidnapping the daughter of one of the cartel leaders….that was responsible for the murder of Alejandro’s family.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (or Sicario 2: Soldado here in the UK/Ireland) sees the return of Matt Graver and Alejandro Gillick on another mission. This time the U.S Secretary of Defence turns to Graver after a suicide bombing in Kansas City, they have reason to believe that the Mexican drug cartels are transporting terrorists across the border. Graver sets in motion that the best course of action is to start a war between the major drug cartels, with killing one leader and kidnapping the daughter of another.

 

While the original Sicario film had us following a protagonist down a slow-building rabbit hole of intensity that made you feel like you needed a shower after watching it, Sicario: Day of the Soldado instantly feels meaner and takes the gloves off as it enters no rules territory and you feel that completely in the films first fifteen-twenty minutes. It’s a strong, bold and effective opening, that sets events in motion and a narrative that is intriguing on paper. The films obvious strength however is the return of Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin as Alejandro Gillick and Matt Graver. Benicio del Toro was my favourite part of the first Sicario and becomes more of the main protagonist here in the sequel, as he’s called upon by Graver to start a cartel war and the incentive given is that they’re targeting the main leader of one of the cartel’s that gave the order to have his family murdered. While Alejandro is on the revenge path in the original, here we see more compassion and sympathy, be it when he’s looking after Isabela Reyes (even though him, Matt and co. kidnapped) and there’s one scene involving him and Bruno Bichir that I thought was wonderfully done and beautifully performed by all involved in that scene. Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver in the sequel is a lot more meaner and more involved this time when it comes to the missions that are carried out, as the flip-flops are traded in for boots. The most telling scene comes when he’s interrogating someone linked to the bombings on U.S soil and the lengths he will go to in order to get the information he needs to get to the main suspect(s). Benicio del Toro once again is terrific as Alejandro, he just oozes charisma on screen, bringing more humanity to the character whilst still carrying out violent actions and Brolin chews more scenery here as Graver compared to the original. Their chemistry on screen is undeniable and the film works when they’re together on screen. I also thought Isabela Moner shone brightly here as she held her own alongside del Toro on screen. While the film focuses on starting a Mexican cartel war, the film feels like it’s trying to make more of a statement about how the drug world, terrorism affects children. We see this in the opening act as well as witness how it affects Isabela Reyes through the course of the film as she is introduced as this entitled princess of a cartel leader (in another good scene attending a meeting with the school principal after a fight with another student) to how fragile, terrified and numb she becomes to everything she witnesses once she’s kidnapped. Then there’s the sub-plot of Miguel Hernandez, a young kid being groomed to work his way through the ranks of a gang and how that connects with the main plot of the film, similar to say the police officer in the original Sicario film.

 

The sequel to Sicario returns without main protagonist Kate Macer (portrayed by Emily Blunt), director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins and honestly for the most part you feel their absence. Granted, you don’t feel Emily Blunt’s absence as much as the others, but you feel like you’re missing that anchor, that character that feels vulnerable to everything that’s going on around them as del Toro and Brolin are in macho-mode. Sollima does a solid job with the directing, as does Dariusz Wolski with his cinematography, but the collaboration of Villeneuve and Deakins was what made the original Sicario special and separated it from others in the crime genre within the last decade and yet this film pretty much feels more episodic than cinematic, if that makes any sense. The script from Taylor Sheridan happens to be his weakest to date in my opinion, and I’m saying this as someone whose liked his screenplays from Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River. The film almost splits into two separate films, with the first half setting the notion that Mexican drug cartels are smuggling terrorists through the border….and the terrorists in question are portrayed as Muslim. It’s already delicate material to formulate on camera and you feel that they had no clear direction on how to conclude on that front as we get one throwaway line about how the suicide bombing was from a different group of terrorists that weren’t smuggled through the border, which then leads to the film taking a different turn from where it started, and sets few pieces in motion that they’ve all but set up for a third film. It’s a case of questioning whether this was Taylor Sheridan’s intention in the script or that it came down from the studio that they wanted something to materialise and move forward with to make a third film in the Sicario name. Matthew Modine and Catherine Keener pretty much have thankless role as well. The sub-plot about Elijah Rodriguez’s character is what will make or break the film for audiences as it was pretty divisive when talking to people after the screening.

 

VERDICT

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is bleak, mean and yet it feels the absence of the touch of Villeneuve and Deakins collaboration behind the camera for me. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin are great in it, del Toro in particular and I thought Isabela Moner’s performance was good too. While the sequel has some great moments, the premise in the films first act will divide some audiences on tackling the subject of Islamic terrorists being brought through the US border from Mexico and also the films final act will prove to be just as divisive. While it lacks the maestro punch of the original, I thought Day of the Soldado was a decent enough sequel, though I’m not too sure whether or not I’ve high hopes for a third film in the Sicario world, but I will check it out to see how it concludes. 7/10

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