Released: 28th June
Seen: 16th July
We certainly live in a very interesting time, don’t we? In regards to issues surrounding the border between the US and Mexico, it’s the kind of time period where just talking about that topic is enough to raise the hairs on people’s necks and make them think about a whole mess of issues. That makes this the perfect time to release a movie that entirely focusses around gangs and crossing the border… there are absolutely no horrific implications that could come from this and there is no way on earth that talking about such a topic could be considered in any way controversial at all. God, I can already smell the thumbs down on Reddit just typing that paragraph out.
Sicario: Day Of Soldado is the sequel to the 2015 film Sicario, one of the more interesting action thrillers I’ve seen in a while because it didn’t make it easy for the viewer to side with anyone. While we were following Kate, possibly the only character in the entire movie with a strong moral compass, we were witness to the American DOJ task force using her status as a way to get away with whatever they needed to do in order to track the drug kingpins they were after. Meanwhile, when we would go see this kingpin, he was mostly portrayed as a family man who didn’t want his kids to be a part of his world. There was a lot of interesting grey area there, you still knew whose side you were meant to be on but it wasn’t made easy for the viewer. You had to side with the violent rule-ignoring DOJ who were willing to do just about anything, including threatening to murder an FBI agent just to get the clearance to do what they felt needed to be done. It was brutal, it was harsh, you genuinely didn’t know who was going to make it out at the end and if they did make it out, you weren’t sure you wanted them to. I watched Sicario today for the first time and it really did mess with my head because it was one of the most surprising films I’d seen… the sequel, not so much.
Sicario: Day Of Soldado has a lot of elements that made the first one shine. It has amazing performances by its insanely charismatic leads, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro. Brolin is just continuing his streak as one of the best actors of this year. After his amazing turns in Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2, Brolin turns in another performance that is completely captivating and brilliant. However the movie belongs completely to Benicio del Toro who manages to be intimidating and kind at the same time, you understand his motivations with nothing more than a look. We’re following a man who is still coping with the events of the last film and is conflicted between his duty and his fatherly feelings, feelings he has seemingly placed onto a child that he helped kidnap… oh, right, the kidnapping.
Where this film stumbles is that it doesn’t have that strong moral centre that the last film had in the form of Emily Blunt’s character, someone who was able to show how the war on drugs was a corrupting influence on those who fought it. Without that central figure showing just how far gone Brolin or Benicio are, we’re left with watching bad men doing bad things for bad reasons. The entire idea is to destabilise the cartels, kind of like how they did in Iraq and Afganistan (That’s the actual idea… because, ya know, Iraq and Afganistan went so well) and of course it’s not going to go well and it’s being done in a way that is highly illegal, probably just counts as an act of war and there’s no reason for it. Start trouble, hope it makes the bad guys freak out. The plan is stupid, and is quickly abandoned and replaced with a weird variation of “Saving the princess”. It’s not poorly done, but it feels like a steep departure from the style of the original movie in terms of story.
We could also just spend ages talking about the very awkward, borderline stereotypical, portrayal of Muslims and Mexicans. Honestly, were it not for Benicio being a part of the main team, this would just be a story about a pack of white soldiers invading Mexico to cause havoc among the stereotypes that live there… and we’re meant to side with them. We’re allowed to see the main guys as people, see them defy authority or have backstories… but that’s almost barely afforded to the people who they’re up against who barely have any character traits other than “Mexican” and “Gang member” and that’s not as interesting as the last film where we actually got personalities thrown at us. We still get some with smaller characters, in particular a deaf man who helps Benicio at one point, but for the most part you could pull these characters out of a bag of cliches.
This film does really excel when it comes to using its landscape. Gorgeous shots taken during the magic hour look like they were lifted from an art gallery. Intense action sequences in the middle of a desert have a sense of tension and dread to them because you never know where anyone’s going to come from. Wonderfully filmed in every aspect, even when it’s a scene that made me rub my temples going “You idiots, you had a really ballsy ending lined up there and you missed it”, it’s still beautiful to look at.
It is one of the more annoying things about this movie is that, unlike the last one, it’s not exactly trying to push the boundaries. There are moments in this film where I was hoping they would do the shocking thing that they were implying (And this is right near the end, so no spoilers on specifics). I was hopeful that they were going to do something to shock me, the first one pulled a gun on Emily Blunt and made me actually sit up straight to take notice and this one kind of chickened out. It doesn’t push to anything new, it just kind of plays everything safe… I don’t exactly think “Safe” when I think of the original Sicario.
In general, this film is good. It’s not as good as the original and it feels like it was made because of the times we live in, instead of having a really good story to follow up on the original from, but it’s still a decent watch. You’re going to get your money’s worth going to see this one.