Sicario: Day of the Soldado Film Review

As fun as it is bleak and disturbing

A couple of things happen when a new screenplay written by Taylor Sheridan gets turned into a movie. One is, the promotional campaign for movies like Wind River (2017) and Hell or High Water (2016) use Sheridan’s writing credit as a selling point. Given Hollywood’s historic disregard of screenwriters, as well as the directorial and writerly anonymity on big studio franchise movies today, this is an anomaly.

There’s also a massive disparity between critics over the content of Sheridan’s screenplays. Few critics deny the craftsmanship in the movies, especially when his work is taken on by directors like Denis Villeneuve and composers like Johann Johannsson (Sicario), actors like Emily Blunt, Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) and, in Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin return. Critics however can’t seem to agree on what Sheridan puts on paper.

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A five star review from Peter Bradshaw with The Guardian commends its nihilism and ‘reckless cynicism’ while Brian Tallerico with Roger Ebert pans it for its use of ‘extreme violence because it can’t think of anything else to do.’ Some critics and writers caution ‘Trumpian overtones’, others commend it for criticising the Trump administration.

Directed by Stefano Sollima, the best thing about this twisty, bleak, pulpy action sequel is how it messes with your moral convictions. This movie will not sit right with you if you’re asking it to confirm your political bias, the way many critics seem to view it. In fact, go in without hoping to be pandered to and you’ll have a tonne of fun with it.

Del Toro returns as the immensely troubled and stoic assassin Alejandro, again summoned by Brolin’s Matt Graver to do something, shall we say, off the books. Matt’s meeting with Alejandro is prefaced by a post-it note pinned to the assassin’s apartment door: ‘I’m in your living room, don’t fucking shoot me!’

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Graver asks Alejandro to help him start a war with the Mexican cartels, thereby labelling them as a terrorist threat. Graver, in the office with his superiors (played by Catherine Keener and Matthew Modine), off handedly suggests that the best way to do this is to ‘Kidnap a prince.’ The resulting plot is to kidnap Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), daughter of one of the richest Cartel leaders in Mexico, and make the cartels believe it was a rival gang.

Two bombings early on are some of the most upsetting imagery in modern American filmmaking, coming close to the kinds of tense, morally isolated sequences Katherine Bigelow conducts in Zero Dark Thirty. These sequences introduce villains, maybe so we can contrast them with our heroes and know who we’re rooting for. Graver is then introduced using devastating torturing techniques on an informant, and Alejandro remains impenetrably mysterious. This all works to not cheapen the mood—there are no good guys here.

The mission is a disaster, splitting Alejandro off with the terrified Isabel, while Graver is ordered to hunt down the assassin and the girl and shut down the whole mission. This new direction in the plot works both to criticise the US military’s apocalyptic war tactics and to spin a classic odd-couple story and a race to the finish between the assassin and the girl, the rival cartels and Graver with the military.

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As a director, Sollima shows his proficiency with tense set pieces, some of them even more thrilling than Villeneuve’s in the first instalment. The bombing sequences are devastating, while a later sequence has Graver ambushed while Isabel waits in the car, breaking out and hiding underneath as bullets whip about her like wind. Each of these sequences is amplified by Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, easily the best composer working in American movies today and a close friend of the late Johann Johannsson, who scored the first Sicario (2015). Guðnadóttir’s pulsating bursts propel the tension and give life to the landscapes, as if the desert in which the battles take place has its own, terrifying heartbeat.

Slip ups and sequel bating towards the end cheapen Day of the Soldado’s consistent mood throughout, but this might be one of the first sequels in a long time that that has me excited about the next instalment. Sheridan’s writing continues to amass a wealth of talent in his movies, making them the most exciting, adult American works today. Sheridan’s screenplays make his audiences feel unsafe. Who else is doing that?

Feature Image Via averagesocialite.com