Film review: ‘SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’
On-screen text at the beginning of Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the sequel to the much lauded 2015 drug-crime drama Sicario, delivers what seems to be a disturbingly ‘conservative’ message about people smuggling across the Mexican-US border, much like the sort of statement we might expect from a certain oddly-coiffured world leader. It appears that this film may have shelved the moral ambiguities of the original and opted for a more belligerent ‘America-first’ approach. Thankfully, as the film unfurls its violent but at times moving story this, proves not to be the case as it questions both US Government policy and righteousness.
As in the first film, Day of the Soldado focuses on black ops Mr Fixit, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and shadowy government hitman Alejandaro (Benicio Del Toro) although FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who provided a moral centre to the first film, is missing here. Following a series of bombings, apparently committed by terrorists emanating from Mexico, the US government has extended anti-terror legislation to the central American drug cartels. They figure they’ll apply a similar approach to the one that apparently worked for them in Iraq, namely setting opposing factions – or in this case cartels – against each other. To trigger an internecine war, they send Graver and Alejandro to kidnap a cartel bosses’ daughter but when they’re betrayed by supposed allies they find themselves in a deadly battle for survival on the wrong side of the border.
Director Stefano Sollima and writer Taylor Sheridan have pared back some of the Byzantine complexity of Denis Villeneuve’s original Sicario and opted for more of a heart-pumping but still thought-provoking action film. The tension rarely abates as the leads find themselves under siege form heavily armed cartels while believing that treacherous government superiors still have their back.
Also, director Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski have removed some of the original film’s stylistic flourishes so, while bracingly shot, Soldado isn’t quite as visually striking as the Villeneuve film. At times it’s more reminiscent of a spare, visceral drama like Katherine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Still, there’s some remarkable set-pieces and punishing violence that’s as intense as anything in the original Sicario. Soldado also makes excellent use of music with its ominous punishing score.
A few elements of the film, such as convenient coincidences and character indestructibility, are a little dubious and begin to push the film into Jason Bourne territory but it never quite cross the credibility line.
Soldado’s more streamlined style allows for a little more character focus than in Sicario. Brolin is utterly convincing as a stone-cold duty-bound government spook. Del Toro is a little more soulful and less sinister in this film and he handles the subtle shifts in his character wonderfully. Isabela Moner is also compelling as cartel boss’s daughter Isabella, convincing as both a vile, pampered demon-child and sympathetic victim.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado sets up numerous plots threads for potential sequels making it feel as if we’ve seen the pilot of a high production TV series as much as a self-contained film but this is still a worthy sequel to one of recent cinema’s more powerful dramas.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2
Genre: Action/ drama.
Director(s): Stefano Sollima.
Release date: 28th June 2018.
Running time: 123 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show