“Sicario,” Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 war on drugs movie, was a powerful look at a seemingly unwinnable battle and the toll it takes on its soldiers. Marked by tension and moral ambiguity, it wove complex quasi-morality and a sense of hopelessness into an edge of your seat story.
The new film, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” a sequel of sorts made without director Villeneuve or the ethical auras of Emily Blunt’s character, breathes similar air but is less nuanced. “Sicario” was an arthouse action film. The new one drops the art in favour of the action.
Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro return as CIA agent Matt Graver and assassin Alejandro Gillick. They are by-any-means-necessary black opps agents, tasked with creating chaos within the Mexican drug cartels after the president adds drug cartels to America’s list of terrorist organizations. Seems the drug lords have expanded from moving illegal substances across the border into the United States to importing humans.
Their plan is simple. Kidnap Isabela (Isabela Moner), a drug lord’s 16-year-old daughter, pin the blame on a rival, then sit back and watch the fireworks. “If you want to start a war,” says Graver, “kidnap a prince and the king will start it for you.”
Good plan, except it goes sideways when Isabela breaks free and hits the road. Gillick, who lost his family, including a young daughter, on the orders of Isabela’s drug lord father, rescues the youngster, stowing her in an out-of-the-way home where she becomes a pawn in a high stakes game.
Although the US-Mexico border plays a big role in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” this isn’t a movie about a wall. Instead it’s a convoluted tale of corruption, fear, relationships, a young girl and the two men who change her life. For most of the running time it works well.
Brolin, the hardest working man at the box office this year, was born to play this amoral do-gooder. He’s a charming killer, a man who does what needs to be done, usually with a one liner and a gun. Like his other characters this summer, “Infinity War’s” Thanos and “Deadpool 2’s” Cable, he’s not above breaking the rules. Bingo. Few actors working right now could pull this off with the kind of steel jawed aplomb that oozes from his pores.
Ditto del Toro who brings an air of menace that positively drips off his perfectly sculpted cheekbones. He’s the boogeyman, a stone cold killer who lives on the edges of morality. This time around Gillick, however, has some softer edges, mostly due to his fondness for Isabela.
Herein lies the first bug-a-boo. When Gillick isn’t shooting people he’s displaying a warm and cuddly side looking after the well-being of the young girl. All of a sudden the guy who murdered kids in the last movie has a big heart. I guess it’s called character development but screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the original, sets up an almost impossible situation involving a child. Big dollops of hopelessness and nihilism return from the first film but Isabela’s relationship with Gillick feels forced, like a plot point and not an organic narrative twist. The sense that director Stefano Sollima and Company are more interested in creating a franchise than staying true to the characters or making a statement about the mess at the US-Mexican border hangs heavy over the film, particularly in the final twenty minutes.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a wild ride until it stops making sense in the last reel. Cynicism and bleakness are still the name of the game but, strangely, Sollima and Sheridan take a u-turn near the end, pushing the limits of belief to create a platform for a sequel. It’s not a feel-good movie but it desperately tries to imitate one in its final moments.