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Sicario, Day of the Soldado | Film Review

SICARIO: Day of the Soldado

If you were left wondering what’s next for Matt Graver’s (Josh Brolin) black bag team and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) then you’re in for it because the second installment Sicario, Day of the Soldado hit theaters Friday, June 29th.

A few housekeeping items before we really get into it:

  • Sicario means Hitman (usually associated with cartels).
  • Soldado means Soldier.

I’ll say now if you didn’t see the first film, don’t see the second without doing so. If you didn’t understand the first film, don’t go to the second looking for enlightenment. As the title indicates, it’s the day of the soldier and they’ve been unleashed with a new mandate.

Most importantly:

If you aren’t comfortable with films that present the harshly unvarnished (and frequently questionable) tactics employed by government officials’ wielding essentially unlimited power and what could very well be a very real chain of events; don’t test anyone patience by going to see Sicario, Day of the Soldado.

♦♦

In Sicario, we witnessed – along with FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) – how the US isn’t above bending the rules of engagement in order to achieve its own ends. The storyline revolves around Macer’s struggle to reconcile the mission and the means. In the end, that reality utterly shatters her equilibrium and her ability to serve. It was a harrowing wake up fall for the “Kates” in the world about just how bloody the US government’s hands truly are in this modern war on terror. Not so surprising for those audience members familiar with history but definitely more stripped down and in your face than many are used to seeing in a plot.

In Sicario, Day of the Soldado director Stefano Sollima takes the helm to tell the next chapter of the story. The griminess of the first is a bit slicker. The intensity’s maintained through long sequences with the ariel shots, contemplative/speaking looks, and the score as its building blocks. Some of the heart so necessary to the first is missing but then again, the mission from conception to execution is a merciless and dangerously exploitive one.

The gloves are off and the US is prepared to declare drug cartels terrorist. Enter Matt Graver and his bag of dirty tricks. Under Sollima’s direction, the plot bridges his murky world of overseas warfare and stateside black-op seamlessly leaving a grimy (and believable) mental trail all the way to the nation’s Capitol.

Graver’s tasked with starting a war between drug cartels because – as one Officer says, it’s highly effective to have your enemies fighting amongst themselves (I’m paraphrasing) – their complicity in the war on terror is tied directly to their control of borders and people. To combat that threat, the US is unleashing Graver to make things nasty. His only limitation, keep US hands clean in the coming mayhem. Because that’s likely…not.

Sicario, Day of Soldado is about what happens when the US changes the rules so it feels free to access its dirtier, filthier playbook. The one US officials like to pretend doesn’t exist even after they’ve called more than a few plays out of it.

Graver’s choice? Kidnap the youngest child of one of the most connected and powerful drug lords and pin the act on a rival cartel. He’s not wrong. A sure-fire way to start a war, breach the security of a leader and kidnap a Prince or in this case, Princess.  There are few people who wouldn’t reign down fire over family.

Naturally, Graver calls on Alejandro since the cartel leader being targeted is the man who murdered his family and sent him down his current path. Alejandro successfully does his part but as the mission progresses the unanticipated (but it totally should’ve been) happens and things go quickly awry (and violently downhill) from there.

What happens next illustrates why the US has a shitty international reputation better than anything else could. I was completely dialed into the Alejandro storyline and wish it’d been more the focus of the film. Isabela Moner is an extremely talented young actress and played well off del Toro. Their scenes and portion of the film are where you’ll find its ethics.

This film has no “moral center” …but, then again neither do most of the people behind these types of decisions. So for me, the decision to remove an “overt conscience” from the cast of players aided building the depths of cynicism in play. I appreciated the naivete being absent, many will not.

I think the tone is deliberately brutal. I think the action at all levels is restrained yet vicious to highlight how very little anyone who finds themselves in the way can expect humane treatment.

This film plays less as a fictional scenario and more a fetish fantasy. It’s built on the bloody “if only we could ___” daydreams of those who always reach for a weapon when talking about the path to solving the country’s problems.

Sicario, Day of the Soldado story leans heavily to one-side. All the nuances explored are on the US side. Even as the mission goes sideways, we hardly gain any insight to whats going behind the scenes or with the non-white players in Mexico.

Sadly, we hardly gain more insight into Alejandro and let’s be real, most of us are here for Alejandro.

But by taking this angle, the focus stays squarely on the callousness and savagery on display by US players. It more than adequately demonstrates how little regard they have for their perceived opponents…or allies. The single-minded focus on “optics” and lack of loyalty speak volume while being a wholly unsurprising and hopefully uncomfortable for audience members.

At least, I hope writer Taylor Sheridan did it for that reason (ok, I know I’m likely giving him far, far to much credit but I live in hope) because for a movie so focused on Mexico it hardly pays attention to the (non-stereotypical) realities on the Mexico-side of the border.

This script plays into already held prejudices about what’s happening at the border (and who’s attempting to cross it) in a way that felt lazy and almost gimmicky. The US has plenty of enemies and bad actors but screenwriters just keep pulling that low hanging fruit.

Sicario, Day of the Soldado requires you be at least nominally dialed into the assumptions, prejudices, and motivations of certain behind-the-scenes players. If you don’t, you’ll miss (or misunderstand) connections, fall out of the story and be driven slightly around the bend by the long stretches of silence.

The second installment isn’t going to keep its entire fanbase because, in the current socio-political climate, there are many who take issue with any call to examine how the US acts within and service to its borders. But then again it might, because willful ignorance is a hell of a drug and there’s plenty here to satisfy the brash and bloodthirsty amongst the crowd.

But, I thoroughly enjoyed this (problematic) chapter. I walked out wonder what exactly will the “rules of engagement” be the next time because this was a shit-show. I’m interested to see where things go next.

3.75 out of 5

**Once you’ve seen the movie you’ll understand my final statement: I hope more than a few names get added to a certain hit list. Because damn.

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