TL;DR – When you have lost so many of the components that made up the first film it is going to have an effect, and the follow-up never quite reaches the heights of the first.
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
The first Sicario (see review) was a film that was equal parts facilitating, beautiful, and deeply problematic. It followed a new recruit as they worked through the often murky situation that is the US/Mexico border where cartels smuggle drugs and people. It was a film that was the master at crafting tension, it weaponised sunsets, had some truly phenomenal acting. However, it also engaged in some deeply problematic events but tried to ignore the ramifications. So with that in mind, I was interested to see where they would go with a sequel when through tragedy and unavailability they have lost their director, cinematographer, composer, and one of the lead actors. Can it hold up with such a change, well no, but it still does have its moments.
So to set the scene, we open in the southern US where at the border agents find prayer rugs at the site of an illegal crossing, cut to Kansas City when we see three individuals walk into a grocery store and blow themselves up in one of the more realistic and confronting suicide bombing sequences I have seen put to film. With the cartels now seemingly allowing or even encouraging terrorists to be smuggled across the border, the US Secretary of State (Matthew Modine) tasks Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) to weaken the cartels in whatever way they can so that they can be targeted when the President declares them to be terrorist organisations. With this in mind, she calls in Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who had been successful at the border in the past and had been working to destabilise hostile forces in Afghanistan. After discovering that the cartel behind smuggling the terrorist was the same one who helped kill Alejandro Gillick’s (Benicio del Toro) family he goes to Columbia to recruit him again. Together they plan to kidnap Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner) the sixteen-year-old daughter of the cartel boss, make it look like another cartel did it, and then let the war rage.
From the start, this film makes it clear that it is both the successor of the last film but that it is also trying something a bit different, as we see that in the opening moments. It is also a little bit nice to see a familiar face return like Jeffrey Donovan to help ground the film. Now while there are some issues that I have with the sequel there were these moments throughout the film that just stand out. The first is the suicide bombing, the next is the convoy attack, and finally the conversation with Angel (Bruno Bichir). Each is building upon the world created in the first film and either amplifying it or taking it in a new direction. There are also these really interesting moments throughout the film about life on the border, like how one of the cartel members is a white suburban mum who is just doing it because it is easy money.
However, this being said, there were a lot of issues with the film that I couldn’t help but feel as I watched the film. The first major issue is that a lot of the film feels like a rehash of moments from the first film. It does feel like even though we have the same writer Taylor Sheridan, what everyone else was told to imitate the style of the first film, and that works with mixed results. Whenever you are working on a follow up to something that was quite successful the natural tendency is to find the things that people liked in the first film and either focus on them or amplify them. This can be a mixed process because often times you just focus on these things and miss everything else that helped give the film context. So we get those moments of tension when you don’t know if everyone is going to make it or even if there will be an attack, but we get that repeated several times throughout the film. You get the people standing in front of sunsets, but not quite as well, a subplot pondering around in the background that you know will come back into it at the end, and so forth. I think the one area where this imitation works the best is in the musical score by Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir who did capture the feel and timbre of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s original score. I feel this is because Hildur had worked with Jóhann extensively in the past so she could capture that feeling.
The other issue I had with the film comes with aspects of the story and because we are heading into the story there will be [SPOILERS] ahead. The whole thrust of the narrative is put in place by the notion that cartels are being used to smuggle in terrorists because immigration holds from places in the world (in this case Yemen/Somalia) have made it too difficult to arrive by plane. However, there is no evidence that the Cartels have ever done this nor that they would because it would be suicide and the film hand waves that away. It also hit on all these buzzwords, like private military contractors, drone strikes, waterboarding, as well as the open consent to kill civilians. All of this feeds into some of the unhelpful and dangerous narratives around the border and how to approach it, militarizing issues is not the best or even the second best option because it limits your future options. Also, the dynamic of the civilian politicians being too gun shy while the real military men know what needs to be done is a trope as old as time and an overused one at that. However, here it is once again used to help create this narrative that the only way to protect ourselves is to give away all that we are, and that is deeply problematic. Add to this the ending which felt forced, on both fronts, in-between spontaneous daytime appearing and you do get a frustrating experience at times.
In the end, do we recommend Sicario: Day of the Soldado? Well look, there are some good performances here, generally, everything is well constructed, and there is a compelling narrative. However, all the things the sequel are missing compounded with some of the more problematic elements of it make me hesitate in recommending it.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Directed by – Stefano Sollima
Written by – Taylor Sheridan
Music by – Hildur Guðnadóttir
Cinematography by – Dariusz Wolski
Edited by – Matthew Newman
Starring – Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, Howard Ferguson Jr., David Castaneda, Jacqueline Torres, Raoul Max Trujillo, Bruno Bichir & Jake Picking
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R