Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Stefano Sollima
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dariusz Wolski
WRITER: Taylor Sheridan
MUSIC: Hildur Gu∂nadóttir
In 2015, writer Taylor Sheridan and director Denis Villeneuve gave us “Sicario”, a tight crime thriller about America’s war on the Mexican drug cartels. Now, Sheridan returns without Villeneuve to continue the war on drugs with “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”. The film escalates the war despite losing a bit of the quality along the way.
A man trying to cross the border detonates a bomb and then more suicide bombers take out a grocery store in Kansas City. What they all appear to have in common is that they were smuggled into America across the Mexican border. We normally think of drugs when thinking about the cartels, but they also make a lot of their money through smuggling humans.
Since the cartels have smuggled terrorists across the border, America has now declared that the cartels are terrorist organizations. The Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) has informed Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) that the gloves are off and they are offering him anything he needs to start a war between the various cartels. To meet this end, he reactivates Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), his asset across the border who also happens to be one of the best hitmen world.
Their plan is to kidnap Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a cartel leader named Carlos that was also involved in the killing of Gillick’s family. Things seem to go as planned until it is revealed that the cartels know about America’s plan. After the mission goes up in flames, Gillick finds himself trying to protect Isabella from Graver’s team since the U.S. wants to completely clean up their mess with no witnesses.
The movie contains several explosive action set pieces but I must admit that, for the most part, it does maintain the tension as the set pieces are cleverly set up. The first half of the film follows the setup and execution of the staged kidnapping of Isabella. I found this to be the most interesting part of the film as it closely stuck to the tone of the first movie.
The second half where Gillick must protect Isabella is where the film sort of loses steam. The final act, in particular, is the weakest even though it still managed to keep hooked. This is really the act where the film dipped below the quality of the first movie for me.
Another highlight of the film, though, are the performances. The cast is pretty solid throughout, but the great standouts are unsurprisingly Brolin and del Toro. Brolin is having a hell of a year playing Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” and Cable in “Deadpool 2”. He can confidently add his performance as the seemingly amoral Graver to the list.
Del Toro returns as Gillick in what has understandably become one of his signature roles. One of the highlights of the movie is that we get to learn just a little bit more about the character from before he became a hitman. Thankfully, Sheridan also keeps a good chunk of his past a mystery and that adds to del Toro’s calm but always menacing performance.
Yes, the movie is shaky when compared to the first movie. However, Sheridan does ultimately provide a decent follow-up with “Day of the Soldado”. If you were a fan of the first film, then you’ll be satisfied with this sequel.