This ain’t the sequel that you expected…
With Sicario: Day of the Soldado the drug war gets taken to the next level as the corruption on both sides of the conflict blur the lines between the good and guys and the bad. While on the surface this felt like it would be a high priced cash grab sequel to a surprise hit but actually plays itself out into something deeper and far more engaging then initially expected.
In the drug war, there are no rules and as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border with profits even higher than the drugs that spill into the country on a daily basis. Federal agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) calls on the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), whose family was murdered by a cartel kingpin, to escalate the war in nefarious ways at the behest of a government who only wants results. Alejandro kidnaps a drug kingpin’s daughter to inflame the conflict between rival cartels but when the girl is seen as collateral damage, her fate will come between the two men as they question everything they are fighting for in a war that truly has no real winners.
For a summer filled with tent-pole blockbuster films where superheroes are either saving and or destroying the world in an onslaught of CGI madness; Sicario: Day Of The Soldado isn’t afraid to get dark and even downright bleak at times as it allows us to get into the heads of our heroes who have to exist in these ever eternal shades of grey in the war on drugs and on terror.
Talking over the reins from the incomparable Denis Villeneuve, director Stefano Sollima who doesn’t come to the table with a big Hollywood or even feature background (having worked mostly in Italian TV) still brings this next chapter in this story exactly what it needs. It’s dirty, it’s corrupt and it’s more than a little unfortunate because we gravitate to these characters that take us to a place that’s akin to existing in a Sergio Leone western. As high tech as the action can get, these are players that are existing in the dust bowl of human experience that no one really wants any part of it except of course for Sollima who takes us there with ease.
Its shot & scored well in obvious nods to the original film and while the dialogue from the script by Taylor Sheridan does get a little clunky and compartmentalized at times; the story has an obvious flow to it. While I would have liked to have seen a little more balance between Brolin and del Toro’s character (the film leans heavily on del Toro’s character) it’s crafting a narrative arc that ropes us into a longer arching story.
Granted it could have done with a little trimming here and there and the obvious trilogy arc that they set up could have possibly been wrapped up in just one longer movies…but at this stage that is really neither here nor there. The movie works, and it works well in large part to del Toro who was simply born to play the role.
As Alejandro; del Toro strikes a chord between being genuinely menacing but also fairly sympathetic as a character at the exact same time. He could have played the part as cold and calculating, but he allows for real emotion to come up from the surface. He didn’t adopt this world of violence, he was forcibly created inside of it all and while it would be easy to blame those who took his family for pushing him to these dark and violent avenues, he also wears the burden of knowing that he’s just a little too good at and enjoys wreaking havoc on those who destroyed his life. Brolin once again shines with his no-nonsense swagger in this picture; the unfortunate problem is that there just isn’t enough of him in the film. Sure the amount of foreshadowing they hit us with makes us believe that we’ll get more Brolin time down the road. Young Isabella Moner is solid as the young daughter of the Cartel leader getting ready unleash hell all over Mexico while the consistently underrated Catherine Keener does well and Brolin’s boss and the surprisingly sleazy Matthew Modine lording over the halls of power not giving a damn about the actually human costs on a war that they’ve lit a fire under just to stoke their respective voter bases.
Sure the film is making some broad sweeps at the Trump administration and current political leanings with our neighbours to the south that don’t always hit like they want it to, however Sicario: Day Of The Soldado actually manages to transcend above all that with a gritty little story about the genuine human cost on the mind-numbing violence that the wars on terror and the wars on drugs can take on the individual. War is always dirty and it will never really have any winners.