Sicario Day of the Soldado movie review: Benicio del Toro’s answer to Hugh Jackman’s Logan
Sicario Day of the Soldado movie review: Director Stefano Sollima can’t quite capture the brute magic of Denis Villeneuve’s first film, but Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin are on top form.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Director - Stefano Sollima
Cast - Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Catherine Keener, Isabela Moner
Rating - 3/5
Of all the tiny memorable things about Sicario - and there were many, including and certainly not limited to Josh Brolin’s Crocs, that excellent traffic jam shootout and the skulls - one stood out. The sky. Now to most of you that might understandably sound vague, but fans of the film would know exactly what I mean when I bring up the sky in Sicario.
While most cinematographers would put up with great inconveniences to shoot during the breathtaking ‘magic hour’ - a tight window immediately after sunset, which in itself is a misnomer because it lasts about 20 minutes really - there is nothing magical about the world Sicario inhabits.
So the great Roger Deakins - the great, Academy Award-winning Roger Deakins - shot certain scenes in the film about 10 minutes after the magic hour, which gave the skies an other-worldly blue tint - deep, dark, and devoid of all hope. And in doing so, Deakins created images so iconic that were you to Google ‘Sicario sky’ right now, you’d understand why it deserves three whole paragraphs.
Like the sky - which it faithfully recreates in one important scene - Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the surprise sequel that no one really saw coming, attempts to evoke memories of the majestic first film in virtually every scene. And funnily enough, it does this not by mirroring the plot in any significant way - the film is very much a sequel, and not at all a retread of Denis Villeneuve’s first movie - but by reminding you of these little moments.
So even when it’s trudging through some of the harshest environments on the planet - the US-Mexico border, like the last time, is shown as a war zone - the sight of Brolin’s Crocs, or of one of those fluorescent meeting rooms in which this movie spends so much time, there is almost a feeling of warm familiarity.
In all fairness, Italian director Stefano Sollima - the man behind Suburra - does save this entire exercise from not being entirely pointless. Perhaps it’s just the idea of a Sicario sequel that’s the most difficult to wrap your head around, but once you do, you can finally begin to appreciate Soldado on its own merits - of which there are several.
For one, it’s always a joy to watch Benicio del Toro unleashed on screen, and his character in these films, Alejandro, was a particularly tough nut to crack. There was a lot of passive staring in Sicario and I’m happy to report that Alejandro gazes into the distance (and into his soul) on numerous occasions in Soldado. And there’s an odd thrill in watching that – it’s more exciting, dare I say, than when he unloads an entire clip into a corrupt politician.
In Soldado, Alejandro is called upon by the sandal-wearing CIA operative Matt Graver - Brolin’s character - when an unspecified new POTUS decides to ramp up the war on terror. To tackle this particular problem, the CIA takes the same approach a medical scientist would in formulating a new vaccine - they set the cartels on each other, with the hope that they kill each other off.
To set their plan into motion, the CIA kidnaps the daughter of a notorious kingpin, but as this sort of thing tends to play out in movies, Alejandro develops a fondness for the girl. And when the plan fails, as these sorts of plans tend to in movies, he vows to protect her from the men who want to kill her - men from either sides of the border.
Returning writer Taylor Sheridan, who broke out with Sicario and has gone on to create several memorable films, always gave the sense that there was more to Alejandro than meets the eye. And del Toro’s subtle performance makes paying attention a requirement, not a choice. He conveys more with roll of the eyes than any other performer (or writer, for that matter) would with six pages of dialogue.
Despite a frequent tendency to take the pulpy route, Sollima’s film is quite a brave depiction of the US’ historically bullish foreign policy. In essence, Graver’s increasingly elaborate ideas to undo his own mess is sort of emblematic of the many international wars - including the one on drugs - that the US has forced its way into and colossally messed up.
To achieve even a fraction of what the first movie did would be asking for too much. But in its own creaky way – despite the pacing issues and large sections of inactivity – Soldado is a relevant, timely thriller featuring a talented cast in fine form.
Watch the Sicario: Day of the Soldado trailer here