A film review by Craig J. Koban July 16, 2018


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. 

Somewhat 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. 

Replacing 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.   

  H O M E