SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO
2018, R, 122 mins.
Benicio Del Toro as Alejandro Gillick / Josh Brolin as Matt Graver / Isabela Moner as Isabela Reyes / Catherine Keener as Cynthia Foards / Matthew Modine as James Ridley / Christopher Heyerdahl as Headmaster Deats / Jeffrey Donovan as Steve Forsing / Ian Bohen as Carson Wright / Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Gallo / Jake Picking as Shawn
Directed by Stefano Sollima / Written by Taylor Sheridan
Upon reflecting on 2015's SICARIO - which, at the time of its release, I thought was one of the best films of its respective year - I never once thought that it was a film with sequel and/or franchise potential written all over it. With the coldly calculating direction of Denis Villeneuve and intense scripting by Taylor Sheridan, the first SICARIO was a pulse pounding and compellingly layered war on drugs thriller with palpable real world reverberations. The Oscar nominated film contained dark and nihilistic writing, taut scenes, memorable performances, and it stood masterfully apart from other similar genre efforts.
That, and as a
deeply satisfying standalone film with modest box office returns, it never
really went out of its way to set up further installments.
surprisingly, but perhaps only inevitably, we now indeed have a sequel in
the form of SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, which thankfully retains Taylor
Sheridan's sharply attuned screenwriting services and a couple of the lead
actors from the first film, but disapprovingly has replaced Villeneuve
(two out of three ain't bad) for a return trip down the troublesome
aspects of U.S./Mexico border and drug enforcement issues.
This new entry also lacks the humanizing element of Emily Blunt,
whose well intentioned and noble minded FBI agent from the last installment
acted as an audience conduit into this depraved world.
SICARIO 2 (which I will refer to it as moving forward) rarely feels
as strongly engineered as its predecessor and contains some questionable
lapses in plot logic, but it nevertheless emerges as a brutally efficient,
consummately well directed, and enthralling moody and interesting sequel.
And like all good sequels, it tries to propel the storyline of its
last entry forward to take its characters in daring new directions without
feeling like a dry rehash. More
importantly, SICARIO 2 manages to stand all on its own two feet despite
being inferior to what came before.
The film also
opens with a bombastic and deeply unsettling introductory act, which firmly
tries to establish this sequel as one that's set within the SICARIO world,
but that somehow expands upon it with a more global focus.
In a crowded Kansas store we witness a group of disturbed men
detonate their vest bombs in an apparent and coordinated terrorist suicide
bomb attack. They spare no
one, not even women and children. Although
some may consider opening the film this way as a bit sensationalistic in
its barbarism, it nevertheless sets the scene for things to come moving
forward in the sequel, and it achieves the intended effect of luring us into
the overall narrative. Oddly enough, these Islamic radicals are directly tied to the
U.S. border with Mexico, and they all gained secret entry into America through
it. The level of unease
this generates with the powers that be in Washington is high, and the
higher ups in charge decide to re-enlist CIA enforcer Matt (Josh Brolin,
returning from the first SICARIO) to come up with a strategic plan to
ensure that this does not happen again.
With a newfound
freedom to deliver results via an any means necessary approach, Matt
decides to re-team up with secret operative Alejandro (Benico Del Toro, also
returning from the first film), and they in tandem launch a fiendish plan
of their own to inspire a Mexican drug cartel war by secretly kidnapping
Isabel (Isabela Moner), the daughter of one powerful drug kingpin that
would inspire mass chaos between fellow drug cartels and, in turn, will
hopefully suppress any foreign terrorist groups from trying to use Mexico
as a launching off point. The
initial kidnapping goes smoothly, but in its aftermath things go south
really fast, leaving Matt with orders from his superiors to force
Alejandro to terminate the young captive, but he refuses, perhaps because
of some lost daddy issues he has with his own daughter, whom was murdered
alongside the rest of his family by the cartels.
Tensions between all, for obvious reasons, begin to severely escalate.
Villeneuve is Spanish filmmaker Stefano Sollima, who most definitely is not
the former's equal, but still manages to place his distinct mark on
SICARIO 2 with his own unique brand of blunt force trauma and slick
direction. Whereas the first
SICARIO was more of an atmospheric thriller about undulating suspense,
SICARIO 2 favors more hard boiled and visceral gut wrenching action,
somewhat akin to the differences between ALIENS and ALIEN.
Not only does he have a great eye for aesthetic detail (the film
looks suitably grubby, lived in, and oppressive throughout), but Sollima
still manages to generate some genuinely nerve wracking sequences of his
own, such as Matt's rather hostile interrogation of a Somali terrorist in
Africa that shows that there's very little he won't resort to in order to
extract information. There's
also a sensationally effective chase sequence and ambush on a Mexican
road, not to mention a disturbing daylight murder of a lawyer tied to the
cartels, pulled off with intimate hostility Alejandro himself.
Now, it may not be entirely credible to see this operative
ruthlessly assassinate a high ranking cartel member in the middle of the
day with many onlookers and witnesses while somehow eluding capture, but
it still makes for a terrifyingly chilling moment.
On the script
front, Sheridan (on a ridiculous roll now after brilliant screenplays for HELL
OR HIGH WATER, SICARIO 1, and last year's underrated WIND
RIVER) shows that he's not compelled to craft a prosaic and
paint-by-numbers sequel that doesn't traverse new thematic ground.
The war on drugs still remains of paramount importance here, but it
serves the purposes of exploring larger issues with ever larger worldwide
ramifications, like how the cartels are in bed with ISIS-types and
assisting them with getting into America, leaving the governments on both
sides desperate to find a way to close this portal off.
Tied to this overreaching story are a couple of intriguing new
subplots, like one involving a young boy that's seduced into one cartel by
his criminal cousin, who promises him future fame and wealth if he assists
him and his bosses in the human trafficking game.
Perhaps ever more compelling is the whole relationship that
develops between Alejandro and the young kidnapped drug heiress, whose very survival
will tip the balance of not only the larger war on the cartels, but on the
terrorist's abilities to smuggle themselves into the country.
Because Alejandro has lost his daughter, there's a hint that he may
be willing to turn a blind eye to duty and keep this girl alive on his own
accord because, deep down, he may wish at seek some form of spiritual
redemption for himself.
Del Toro was, of
course, the highlight of SICARIO 1 for me, and once again he displays an
incomparable level of soft spoken menace and beleaguered toughness that
makes every single scene he occupies here so bloody intoxicating.
He's well paired throughout with Moner (one of the very few shining
parts of the last TRANSFORMERS
film), who perhaps has the most thankless
role in the film as her abducted youth that shows a streetwise toughness,
resiliency, and maturity beyond her young grade school years; she's also a
perfect encapsulation of how a child's innocence can be shattered by being
unfortunately born into a world of crime and bloodshed.
And then there's the stone cold authority of Brolin as his
tenaciously no-nonsense military man that has a personal code that he
follows, but then is challenged with orders by his superiors that supersedes that code. After
fantastic turns in AVENGERS:
INFINITY WAR, DEADPOOL 2 and
now SICARIO 2 Brolin could stake a legitimate claim for being the
performer of the summer season.
SICARIO 2, for
the most part, was unexpectedly enthralling throughout and a worthy sequel
to the first, although it does contain some questionable creative choices
that had me scratching my head on more than one occasion.
Without engaging in spoilers, some of the chief motivations and
specific decisions made by some characters didn't make much sense to me
(especially considering their established ruthlessness in the last movie),
not to mention that the late stages of the story and its ending as a whole
doesn't quite work. The final
act conjures up a few would-be surprising plot twists that, instead of
being legitimately shocking, only manages to elicit eye rolling.
SICARIO 2 never really has a satisfying sense of closure and, quite
frankly, never feels like it actually ends, only instead favoring a setup
for more SICARIO films to come. Yet,
there's no denying that this sequel did make me genuinely
intrigued to see where this franchise is headed next and made me want to
see yet another sequel. Considering
my exceedingly low expectations for this one going in, that's a small
scale triumph for SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO.
Hopefully, the next border hopping thriller with damaged and
morally conflicted characters that straddle the line between good and evil
will deliver more of the same.