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Review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)

Directed by: Stefano Sollima

Premise: A sequel to the 2015 film. A CIA agent (Josh Brolin) recruits hitman Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) in a plot to manipulate Mexican drug cartels into a drug war. But the kidnapping of a drug lord’s teenage daughter spins out of control.

What Works: Like its predecessor, Sicario: Day of the Soldado takes a gritty approach to its subject and possesses violent intensity throughout. This is no Hollywood shoot-’em-up adventure. The Sicario films are grounded in reality and the violence carries weight and trauma. Day of the Soldado presents its violence in a way that is very effective. The opening sequence of suicide bombers destroying a shopping center is terrifying and saddening, a far cry from the way violence is usually presented in a Hollywood action picture, and the film includes an outstanding sequence in which a caravan of Americans are ambushed in the Mexican desert. Day of the Soldado takes the audience deeper into the drug trade, including sequences of illegal immigration across the Mexico-U.S.A. border. The film offers a vivid portrait of the precarious journey across the border and the way cartels and narcotics fit into it. Benicio Del Toro returns as Alejandro, a mysterious hitman with a vendetta against the cartels. This is the kind of intense and morally ambiguous role that Del Toro does well and he’s paired with Isabela Moner as the teenage daughter of a drug lord. There is a tension in their relationship and the young actress is impressive. Moner’s passionate teenager is an effective counterpoint to Del Toro’s quiet intensity and as she is exposed to the violence of the drug trade her transformation is the most resonant part of the movie.
What Doesn’t: The original Sicario was a descent into the moral ambiguity of covert warfare, not unlike Zero Dark Thirty. The hook of the 2015 film was in the way it gradually revealed the truth about the characters and the nature of military operations against the drug cartels. Coming into the sequel, that secret is already out of the bag. Day of the Soldado does not include Emily Blunt, who played an upstanding FBI agent who pieced together the truth and objected to the illegality of the operations. Her absence frees up the filmmakers to plunge into the moral and logistical morass hinted at in the first film. But without Blunt’s character, or someone like her, no one vocalizes the moral and legal problems that the movie raises nor do the filmmakers dramatize them effectively. Day of the Soldado sets up themes of escalation and corruption but very little of that is realized on the screen. Part of the problem is the conception of the story. Del Toro’s character and his CIA and DEA allies incite a drug war but we have no idea who the different factions are. Violence just erupts and it is unclear who is doing what to whom or why. That may be a deliberate choice; the violence is chaotic and random but it also lacks meaning. And that is a more fundamental problem with Day of the Soldado. There are some ideas here but the filmmakers don’t commit to them. The story is meandering and has a haphazard feel.

Bottom Line: The Sicario sequel is both better and worse than its predecessor. The sequel delves deeper into what was established in the first film but the story is flimsy and doesn’t follow through on its implications.

Episode: #708 (July 22, 2018)