Sicario: Day of the Soldado brings back Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro for another adventure and this time the gloves are off. Taylor Sheridan’s story is strong, but needs an Emily Blunt character to balance its themes. Italian director Stefano Sollima gets behind the camera this time, infusing his own flavor.
The beauty of independent cinema is that it is not beholden to the Hollywood production system. A producing team can write their own rules regarding financing, distribution and ultimately, the final product. Within that framework, a certain quality control must be the driving force. In 2015, Black Label Media and Denis Villeneuve released Sicario to unsuspecting audiences. It was brash and bold and held no punches.
It was so popular that it generated a sequel, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which hits theaters tomorrow.
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario, TV’s Sons of Anarchy) returns to the world he created. Award-winning director Stefano Sollima (Suburra) takes over for Denis Villeneuve in the director’s chair. Together, they create a story of international intrigue surrounding the drug trade across the U. S. – Mexican border and this time, the gloves are completely off.
Unfortunately, the frenetic nature of this story does not find the same stride as Sicario did. Much like the fact that the film was stuck in a dispute between the former domestic distributor, Lionsgate and the production company, the film’s machinations are quagmired in the geopolitical situations it creates, even if it results in one of the more brutal moments of recent film history.
Fortunately, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro return as Matt Graver and Alejandro Gillick. The unique cynicism that made them what they are is also back, though the story is strangely muted as well. Both actors bring their A-game, moving the globe-trotting adventure along quickly. A Mexican drug cartel is smuggling terrorists across the border and Graver is tasked with eliminating the problem, bringing in Alejandro to assist. Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Donovan, Matthew Modine and Shea Whigham co-star.
At one point, Graver is asked, “how do you define terrorism,” and without missing a beat, he asks the same question of the bureaucrat. That’s the beauty of Brolin’s take on the character. I mentioned that Graver and Alejandro are more muted, perhaps more reserved in this film then they were in the prior film. Part of that is due to the missing outsider’s view we witnessed with Emily Blunt’s character from the first film. She was as much a moral compass for us as she was for the story, grounding Graver’s and Alejandro’s motives.
While del Toro’s character arc is better defined as the character uses a rogue side story to ground his motives, Graver becomes this story’s “pull” against Alejandro’s “push.” The struggle is that both men are as much an antagonist, or anti-hero, that neither man could be a protagonist; they summarily cancel each other out. This leads us to a very shocking scene about midway through the film.
Sheridan’s understanding of character development and story structure give strength to the events that define the second and third acts. Sollima brings a Spaghetti Western vibe to the action, but it feels as if his style was less in tune with Sheridan’s beats. As a result, Sheridan’s tonal shift doesn’t come across as well as it probably should.
Technically, the film looks as vibrant as the first. Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography captures the bleak vistas of the desert and uses that to drive the numerous chase sequences. There’s a scene with del Toro and Isabela Moner who plays Isabela Reyes which captures the essence of who Alejandro is and what he has become.
Hildur Guonadottir scored this film’s music using Johann Johannsson’s score from the first as a template. Johannsson unexpectedly passed away before this film was completed. Guonadottir’s score is adept at carrying the soul of this film, but is not as strong a character as Johannsson’s score was for the first film.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado captures the essence of what made the first film such a success. It is brutal and violent and it touches on several key issues affecting the national security of this nation. While Brolin and del Toro are absolute stand outs, and we know we’re getting the inevitable third entry into this series, the frenetic nature of this story and the shifting natures of our main characters mutes the power of taking the gloves off.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado has been rated R by the MPAA.