‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ is the kind of sequel the original deserves

‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ is the kind of sequel the original deserves

‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ is the kind of sequel the original deserves
July 03
10:47 2018

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a curious beast. It’s a follow-up to one of the most deceptively thoughtful and gruesome takes on the U.S. government’s uneasy relationship with the Mexican government and its cartels. Director Denis Villeneuve’s work on the 2015 original was a rare piece of work — a film that had no obvious intention to franchise itself told an episodic story that was bookended with a satisfactory sense of closure. It was masterfully crafted in terms of its tone, moral ambiguity and gritty, if mournfully rare, action.

How they managed to follow the film of that caliber up with anything half as clever is within itself a huge accomplishment on the part of director Stefano Sollima. The fact that it’s arguably as good, if not better, is something I’m still trying to process.

“Day of the Soldado” follows Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) as they try to incite a civil war between two cartels near the Texas-Mexico border, as these cartels have recently been classified as terrorist organizations. Isabel Reyes (Isabel Moner), the daughter of one of the cartel kingpins, is used as bait and is abducted by Gillick and Graver. Naturally, as these things go, someone is betrayed, and Gillick is forced to cut ties with the U.S. government, as he represents a loose end.

Gillick, whose family was murdered by Isabel’s father years ago, is a tortured yet hardened soul whose moral compass is unpredictable to a fault — he does what he deems necessary in relation to his actions. Speaking of his actions, both Gillick and Graver are deadly operatives who act swiftly and with precision. However, while this is true, the frequency of action leaves a lot to be desired.

While the action is outstanding, it is inconsistently sprinkled throughout the film. Both this film and its predecessor faltered here. However, “Day of the Soldado” commits this sin to a lesser degree. The film is drawn out, showcasing the process that these operatives go through to accomplish a deadly mission. While it’s necessary, I often felt bored, aching for the nail-biting action, set pieces and intense drama between these strong protagonists.

In between the slow-burn, methodical planning and action, there are the rare but uniquely quiet moments of the mournful reminders of the victims of these kinds of wars.

The cartels are responsible for the deaths of millions, and to wage war with such organizations inevitably equates to loss in excess of both the innocent and guilty alike.

To strengthen this point, the scenic landscapes that the Mexico and south Texas borders are accompanied by are expertly shot, blurring the lines of where exactly this violence and lawlessness occurs. Its unforgiving nature serves as a backdrop and reminder of the stakes involved: gunfights between these militant factions serve as a surface level conflict, framing the danger involved in these places, as well as the attempts to escape war-torn lands as victims of this epidemic of violence. What’s more is the way shots linger on those who are murdered, as if to say it’s just another day in the life.

Del Toro now sits among the best in this genre. The man of few words who fears nothing and is out to accomplish what he must. Gillick’s loss has driven him to revenge, yet another reminder of the result of the prolonged conflict in the homeland of millions of innocent people. What he goes through in this film is the stuff of extreme trauma, and the way he plays this character is impressive, to say the least.

Likewise, Brolin plays Graver with admirable determination. A man whose become desensitized by the gruesome violence is showcased in his gunfights, as he authorizes his men to engage the enemy in his final scene, gunning down half a dozen without hesitation as a form of penance for having to leave Gillick’s side as an ally.

Leaving the relevant politics out as much as possible, I have seen outcry that Hispanic men are villainized and stereotyped in this film and that this film is American propaganda to induce fear of the south in order to promote some sort of barrier to the lawlessness. Make no mistake, Brolin’s character is by no means the harbinger of moral justice either. His team of Americans is as violent and cruel as the sicarios’ at times. Instead, the only innocent ones are the many ferried across the border by their traffickers. Those crossing are thus characterized as victims of an illegal and evil currency. Even still there is a gray area, as these cartels are responsible for sending immigrants over to move product and to commit violent crimes.

Regardless of the politics, “Day of the Soldado” is a slow walk through a house of mirrors, forcing the perceived “civilized” people to understand that it is not so black and white. No country is innocent in these types of dealings — least of all us. However, it is not cliché, as that message is front and center for everyone involved to see. While at times too slow, it’s never the less potent and actually streamlines a few of the problems I had with the original.

It’s truly rare to see such a great film get an even solid sequel, and “Day of the Soldado” accomplishes this feat with awe-inspiring results.

My Rating: 4.5/5

 Featured Image: Courtesy “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” Facebook

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Zach Helms

Zach Helms

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