Sicario: Day of the Soldado | Stefano Sollima | June 29, 2018
Sicario was one of the biggest surprises of 2015 for me. Usually gunplay and machismo aren’t my tempo, but I gave it a chance based on Dennis Villeneuve’s previous film Prisoners (2013). What transpired was one of the most gripping and intense cinematic experiences of the decade. Despite the original being a self-contained story, Sicario: Day of the Soldado finds Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro back for their next job.
One of the things that made Sicario so visceral was that, while fictional, it highlighted a profound reality of Mexican cartel violence around Juarez in the early 2010s. Immigration has always been a hot button political issue in the United States, but with the recent change in our country’s political climate, Day of the Soldado seems uncannily timed. That realism is what makes some scenes incredibly jarring to watch – especially the opening. It’s also where the problems begin.
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan returned to pen the script, but most of the original production team didn’t return. The magic of Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson is notably missing. Unlike the first, the pacing of Soldado falls into a more predictable series of lulls and spikes, which may also just be a symptom of being a sequel. Some moments are incredibly tense, but nothing ever tops the dinner scene at the end of Sicario in terms of pure shock value. It’s important to note that Day of the Soldado also doesn’t fetishize violence, which far too many action-heavy films do. It’s a very cautionary tale, both in personal choice and for a country stressed by xenophobia.
The absolute strength of the movie lies with its cast. Emily Blunt was obviously a huge asset to lose, but Brolin and Del Toro really hold their own. And, despite being a plot device for most of the film, newcomer Isabella Moner (previously seen in Transformers: The Last Knight) really takes command of her character in what’s really her largest role to date. I really wished that she had more screen time, as her subtle acting makes clear that thoughts and motivations are flying through her head unspoken. Her story sort of just trails off … and I wouldn’t be surprised if the third film being planned revolves around her in some way, shape, or form while also bringing back Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer.
I guess it’s unfortunate that Day of the Soldado must inevitably be compared to its predecessor. It’s not a bad film by any means, and fans of the first will almost certainly enjoy the continuing story, but it’s simply missing some of the physical elements that made Sicario such a diamond.