With downtime still a thing for many, myself included, movies have become a great way to pass the time. Watching new movies or flicks that passed by due to busy schedules. So it was about time that I finally got the chance to sit down and watch Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the sequel to the excellent 2015 film Sicario directed by Dennis Villeneuve. That film, and its directors, remains at the top of the class, so I was curious and hesitant about how an unplanned sequel would fare.
Day of the Soldado, (initially simply Soldado) is once again written by the talented Taylor Sheridan and sees Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro return. Emily Blunt is notably absent from this entry, as is Denis Villeneuve and his go-to cinematographer, Roger Deakins. Instead, we have a relative newcomer to Hollywood in Italian filmmaker Stefano Sollima calling the shots this time. The plot involves the US trying to weaken the Mexican Cartels, who are using the border as a means to smuggle terrorists into the States, by indicating a war between the various organizations.
Right off the bat, Brolin shines in this movie as Matt. Sure, he’s not exactly sunshine and daisies here, he’s a cold-hearted black ops agent who will do just about anything to get the job done. In the opening scenes with him, we see him attempt to extract information from a prisoner by using drone strikes on family members. Talk about not messing around. Likewise, del Toro’s standout from the first film, Alejandro, returns and his mission this time around sees him operating without any restrictions. He’s still out for revenge and the new mission grants him new opportunities to exact it.
The movie opens up with a string of terrorist attacks, one botched attempt during a nighttime border crossing, another at a grocery store in Kanas City. It’s pretty messed up and uncomfortable to witness. The US believes that foreign agents are travelling into the country via human trafficking rings in Mexico, who paid a premium to be smuggled over. In order to incite a cartel war, the government assassinate a high ranking cartel lawyer and kidnap the kingpin’s daughter in hopes of framing the kidnaping on other cartels.
While Villeneuve’s masterful directing and Deakins’ always perfect cinematography are gone, the movie still looks great, with an overall great pace-especially in the first half. The haunting cello riff creeps through the movie as the operatives begin their mission. The first half of the movie is very tactical and feels very driven by urgency and finesse. The abduction scene and an ambush scene in Mexico are visceral and intense without ever feeling like popcorn entertainment, which is exactly the right move in my opinion. None of this should ever feel entertaining. This movie is dark, sometimes horrifying-but never to the degree the first movie was. Soldado doesn’t have a scene that was uncomfortable like the opening raid in the first film, or the grizzly images seen in Juarez.
What the movie does well in terms of storytelling is to showcase how this violence impacts communities, families and chiefly, kids. We follow two kids throughout the film, an American national with his eyes on the violent life, and Isabel Reyes, the daughter of the kingpin of the Matamoros Cartel who gets kidnapped by the US. Reyes, played by Isabela Moner, convinces us that while she’s tough on the outside, the violence that has shaped her world comes at a cost and she sees just how horrible things can get once she is taken and people start using her and seeking her.
While many aspects of the movie are solid, there are other parts that aren’t, chiefly the ultimate direction of the film. What starts with a quest for terrorists-an intriguing set up I might add-ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. The horrific bombing in the opening-and the mastermind behind it-begin to feel like an afterthought come the midway point of the movie. More important is setting up the cartel war and even at the halfway point, where the movie begins to drag and lose focus, that objective becomes muddled. I have no idea if this was in the final cut of the movie or simply the stream I had on Netflix, but the scenes in Spanish had no subtitles, forcing me to sometimes switch on close captions simply to follow the story.
Since the movie’s plot is mired in failure, whether it be the betrayal from Mexican authorities, to learning that the bombers are homebred to failing to incite the cartel war, a lot of the second half of the movie begins to feel a bit unfocused, which may cause the viewer to ask what’s the point of it all. Perhaps that’s the genius of the movie, but it none the less takes away from the film. The original Sicario did not have a happy ending either, but it had focus and resolution. All Day of the Soldado did was get me more intrigued about the confirmed third movie, rather than appreciating the nuance and performances of the second.
In the end, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a decent film, with an excellent first half, great performances and score. But the movie begins to lose it’s sense of purpose and direction as it goes on. It has things to say, on the consequence of violence chiefly, and it gets to eventually say that, but it also becomes far too convoluted and ends up taking on more than it can carry at times. Still, for del Toro and Brolin alone, it’s worth a peek.