Sicario: Day of the Soldado (R) ★★½ by J. DeLong

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” stars Benicio Del Torro and Josh Brolin. Photo Credit: Lionsgate

Sicario: Day of the Soldado – Too Soon

When Sicario came out in the fall of 2015, it was a critical and commercial success with outstanding performances and a visual flair from the filmmakers. The film, which had numerous amoral characters fighting the long and violent war on drugs along the border, had a murky finale that left the audience without closure. Although the film left unanswered questions, that choice felt intentional and it came as a surprise when a sequel was announced. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, written again by Taylor Sheridan, returns to this violent world, but this time without the moral compass that Emily Blunt’s character represented. Perhaps even more notable, is the loss of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, whose collaborations garner Oscar attention on a regular basis. Without the heart and soul of the first film, the sequel, which still has strong performances and action sequences, lacks the artistry and narrative that makes the violent material worth the investment.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado, begins with a familiar setting from the previous film –migrants at the U.S. / Mexico border, scrambling to cross into America in the middle of the night. As cars and helicopters from border patrol close in on the group, one person sprints from the pack only to detonate a bomb and kill himself instead of being captured. The action then cuts to a crowded department store in Kansas City, where four men, clad in all-black, walk in and each detonate bombs killing themselves and many innocent lives. In response to these vicious attacks, the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine, 47 Meters Down, 2017) declares that the U.S. Government is going to hunt these terrorists down with the full might of the U.S. armed forces. 

In case you thought this sequel was going to move into a new direction (threat of Jihadist terrorism instead of the drug cartels), in walks Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, Avengers: Infinity War, 2017) from the first Sicario film. Following up on intelligence regarding the origins of the suicide bombers, his special ops forces capture of a Somali crime boss, whose organization allowed the terrorists safe transportation into Mexico via his boats. Graves, uses brutal interrogation tactics on the Somali criminal (including a drone strike on his house) to get key information and relays to his bosses that the Mexican cartels are helping smuggle the terrorists into the U.S. for vast sums of money. Graves is informed by military leadership that the U.S. government has branded the cartels “sponsors of terror” and are ready to get dirty, which is why they want Graves and his off-the-books team. Their mission is to create enough tension between the Mexican cartels to start a civil war at which point the U.S. can come in and sweep the area clean. In order to pull this off, Grave’s first stop is Mexico, where he hopes to recruit Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 2017) for a new mission. The grizzled Sicario still wants revenge for the murder of his family by the cartels and quickly accepts the offer.  Grave and Gillick, along with a team of special ops begin to drive a wedge between the cartels: first with an assassination against one cartel in broad daylight in Mexico City which they follow with the kidnapping of the rival cartel boss’s daughter. Their plan seems to be working until the situation derails and they return to Mexico and face heavy resistance.

As noted, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is very similar in tone to the original film and has a number of highly suspenseful action sequences, which are thrilling to watch.  It also has a few strong performances, especially from Benicio Del Toro, and newcomer, Isabela Moner (Transformers 2: The Last Knight, 2017). Besides these two, almost every other character doesn’t get enough screen time to have any serious development besides Josh Brolin’s character.

Although character development is limited, what really separates the sequel from the acclaimed original is the direction and narrative. Unlike, the original, which was directed by Denis Villeneuve who is arguably one of the best directors of his generation, director Stefano Sollima stumbles through many scenes and lacks the aesthetics of the original. The narrative is frustrating as well. For the first thirty minutes, the film deals with the threat of Jihadist terrorism before the movie flips right back to the battle with the cartels on the border without really adding to our understanding of the problem. This first half hour could have been cut given how little it added to the appreciation of the film. Also, despite focusing on Brolin and Del Toros’s characters, we learn next to nothing about them as people, which makes their violent actions feel gratuitous to the audience. Given the current politicization with the border and issues with U.S and Mexican relationships, the film is probably a victim of bad timing, but it didn’t need to show every Mexican character as an expendable victim or drug dealer either.

Bottom Line:  If you loved the original film, you may enjoy renting this film, but don’t expect to be blown away.

Credits: Written by Taylor Sheridan; Directed by Stefano Sollima

Cast: Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro Gillick), Josh Brolin (Matt Graver), Isabela Moner (Isabela Reyes), Jeffrey Donovan (Steve Forsing), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Gallo), Catherine Keener (Cynthia Foards), Matthew Modine (Sec. of Defense James Riley), and Shea Whigham (Andy Wheeldon)

Studio: Lionsgate

Running Time: 122 minutes