Sicario: Day of the Soldado just plain grabs hold and doesn’t let go, a powerful sequel that firmly stands on its own.
I was a little surprised when I heard they were making a sequel to the fantastic 2015 Sicario without either star Emily Blunt or director Denis Villeneuve attached to it. How would that work? Both brought such nuances to a tale about the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico, so it felt like a sequel wasn’t even necessary. But I should have trusted the fact that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan was once again on board and penned the sequel’s screenplay.
To put it plainly, Sheridan is one of the best cinematic storytellers going these days. With crime stories being his specialty (Hell or Highwater, Wind River and the new Paramount TV series Yellowstone), the man knows exactly how to craft a narrative that seems both intimate and far-reaching in its themes and scenarios. It makes perfect sense why Sheridan decided to center Sicario: Day of the Soldado on the original’s most compelling characters – Josh Brolin’s tough CIA “fixer” Matt Graver and Benicio Del Toro’s haunted ex-lawyer Alejandro, now turned vigilante against the Mexican drug cartels, and Graver’s go-to guy to get whatever nasty job done.
The film follows Graver as he is secretly tasked by the US government to start what looks like a turf war between the Mexican drug cartels in retaliation for their involvement in some recent terrorist attacks in the US. Graver’s plan is to kidnap the teenage daughter, Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), of one of the main drug kingpins, make it look like a rival move and then watch the mayhem ensue. He brings in Alejandro to handle the kidnapping, which suits Alejandro just fine since it’s this particular kingpin who ordered the murder of his family.
Complications arise, however, when things go awry. Suddenly, Graver’s mission is aborted, and he is ordered to clean up “loose ends,” while Alejandro and Isabel find themselves stranded in the Mexican desert, trying to figure out a way to get back across the border. Add in a subplot about a young Mexican-American teen who is recruited to help smuggle illegals across the border in what amounts to be a human trafficking ring, and you’ve got one hell of a captivating film. And yes, the subject matter is also very relevant in this current political climate, which should hit home in many ways, but I can’t get into my heart-wrenching feelings on that particular subject at this time, and not in this context.
As I said, Brolin and Del Toro fascinated me in the original, and to see their characters explored in new ways in this Sicario is what makes the film so distinctive. Both actors shine in their roles. Brolin’s take-charge and cocksure Graver, chomping on his gum, wearing his Crocs, finds himself a little more involved than he’s used to. We get to see a more human side to him. Same goes for Del Toro’s Alejandro, who is still haunted by the loss of his family and naturally bonds with Isabel, taking her under his care – even if she seems like she could make it on her own. Both men are affected by this girl, played by the amazing Moner.
The young actress knocks you out with this performance and really puts any thoughts about her involvement in the horrid Transformers: The Last Knight right out of your head. Moner makes Isabel both incredibly fierce and also vulnerable, as any 15-year-old would be if kidnapped and then thrust into an all-out gun battle, left in a hot desert, and hunted by rival Mexican cartels. It’ll be interesting to see what Moner does moving forward, aside from the fact she’s going to play a teenage Dora the Explorer in an upcoming movie. She’ll do something meaningful again.
As for the overall look and feel of Sicario: Day of the Soldado, original director Denis Villeneuve’s auteurish touches are missed a little, but Italian director Stefano Sollima’s vision fits right into the Sicario vibe. Sollima really captures the same moody, foreboding tone as the original. The action sequences are seat-grabbing and some of the unexpected violence hits you in the face, while snippets of the original haunting score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson permeate the proceedings. But Sollima et. al. doesn’t have to add much flourish to it. Rather, this Sicario sequel is best told in a straightforward manner, letting the story unfold as written by the film’s true star, Taylor Sheridan.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is more than a worthy follow-up and will keep you mesmerized from beginning to end.