Sicario: Day of the Soldado, 2018.
Directed by Stefano Sollima.
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, and Elijah Rodriguez.
The drug war on the US-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.
Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado is ruthless and cutthroat in ways that Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario wishes. An absolute stone-faced smoking gun of a conspiracy thriller that ups the original’s black-ops-tactical ferocity. Both are strategically precise and haunting beyond any military boogeyman’s wildest dreams, unflinching in their desire to acid-wash what it takes to keep bad men at bay (Taylor Sheridan’s scripted handiwork). The sacrifice. The dissociation. The collateral tragedies caught in the middle. Sicario was our bullet-to-the-head introduction, and Sicario: Day of the Soldado demands equal attention. Keep that knowledge handy…along with a brown paper bag.
Federal Agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is back once again to kick the US-Mexico hornet’s nest after a supermarket bombing in rural America is tied to smuggled illegals over our Southern border. Cynthia Fords (Catherine Keener) gives Graver the chance to reunite with grieving Mexican DEA contact Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) in the name of undercover aggression. Steal Carlos Reyes’ daughter Isabel (Isabela Moner), blame rival cartels and watch the fireworks fly. Just like Afghanistan, Graver says. Except for this time it’s inside a neighboring country and when things get messy, heavier consequences show these soldiers a side of governmental cleanliness no one wants to believe.
What’s made 100% clear is that *accomplished* cinematographer Dariusz Wolski is not Roger Deakins, the legend behind Sicario‘s photography. Wolski’s replication of the same skyline angles isn’t seared into my brain like Deakins’ work still is (night vision tunnel raid). Opening landscape shots of a search helicopter flying over Mexican desert pathways recalls the same sprawling terrain if only to rely a bit heavier on drone cutaways after the fact. This is not a *poorly* shot film, or even *generic* at that. What Deakins delivers is upper echelon, and while Wolski does flirt with homages (sincerity in stakes is sold with visual stability) it’s just not Deakins.
In terms of political exploitation, Sicario: Day of the Soldado pulls no punches. Graver’s agent of chaos injects double the flip-flops-and-waterboarding calmness we’ve seen – but “Soldado” is also about “Sicarios” in training (cartel hitmen). When US operatives lose control of their objective, three worlds collide between Texas and Mexico. Alejandro left to protect a now-displaced Isabela in crossfire trouble, Graver forced to wipe his slate clean and US citizen Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez) realizing his potential as a border-crossing thug guide. Three trajectories hurdling towards one another under a guise of “change,” which Fords so toothlessly reminds is *never* the objective. Women and children used as pawns, volunteers discarded by the very leaders who enlisted them. “Good” and “bad” are words with no meaning here.
Oh, and that’s really just the start of it.
Within the film’s first few minutes, you will be exposed to a blend of US border crisis panic with terrorist insurgencies. Acts of violence not for the faint of heart are meant to startle or enrage. Visions of cowardice. Slaughtered innocents. These atrocities represent the catalyst for Graver’s unchained release, proportionate in response as per Department of Justice head James Riley (Matthew Modine). Rules of engagement go out the window and spiral morality into shades of grey that are a tad more discernible this time around when it’s all said and done. Where Sicario was more Burn After Reading in retrospect, Sicario: Day of the Soldado sharpens a blunt stick into a pointed spear aimed with intent.
Back once again are the assault-equipped shootouts worth not a drop of sweat to Graver’s team. Jeffrey Donovan as right-hand mustache Steve Forsing; Mexican ambushes spitting bullets into Humvees, bullet vests, and plenty of corrupt footsoldiers. Precision never outmatches our protagonist kidnapping team, yet “action” is still chewing-on-glass intense. Benicio’s revenge saunter before riddling cartel lawyers with unorthodox trigger jostling. Brolin’s Admiral-like composure with Patton’s grit and a California swagger. Vehicles speed toward checkpoints, helicopters corner fleeing automobiles, violence is dealt in ways that’d make the Grim Reaper blush – Sollima *makes sure* his sequel is just as much the .50 caliber impact Villeneuve’s first shot landed.
Brolin, Del Toro, Donovan and more are the hardwired war dogs they always were. Although, Sicario: Day of the Soldado presents something unique: a breaking point. Isabela Moner’s crime syndicate princess is no throwaway hostage. She’s a child turned token and every character takes this into account. Del Toro leaves a bloody trail as he defends the young girl while Brolin says “fuck it all” once relayed orders paint the truest picture of his firestarter battle. Moner and Del Toro pull a quick Man On Fire act when stranded by Brolin’s team after retreating, also working to humanize Del Toro’s heartbroken father by further defining his own deceased daughter’s personality. All in all? You’ve seen these characters feign conscience, now watch them actually act on one.
You shouldn’t see Sicario: Day of the Soldado as an action movie. What’s presented is borderline horror. A realm where humanity is ignored in order to force away problems with nasty bottom lines. In this world, religious martyrdom is not shown to get a cheap raise – it’s an establishment of the shove that’s about to take place. The push itself is goddamn unspeakable, but the shove? Damn straight it’ll chill, haunt and rattle your very core given mechanical executions that rarely acknowledge extinguished life. Those who couldn’t handle Sicario belong nowhere near this sequel’s blast radius. Otherwise I hope you like your international strike team cowboying with a slick lather of petrol, ignited and never extinguished until the credits roll.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★