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Friday, June 29, 2018

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

I saw 2015's Sicario, and I know I had plans to review it, but for whatever reason I never did.  I honestly don't remember why, but I think I was just bogged down with work and other things at the time.  It's something I've long regretted, as it was a dark, gritty and powerful film that was worthy of praise.  I don't know if a sequel was exactly necessary, and it definitely pales a little bit in the face of the original.  The absence of the original film's star, Emily Blunt, is also definitely felt, and it's odd that Day of the Soldado does not even mention her character and what happened to her.

That being said, this is still a worthwhile film, thanks to the performances of the two actors who did return, Josh Brolin (who is pretty much owning the summer of 2018 at the box office) and Benicio Del Toro.  And even if it doesn't have the impact of the first, it's not without its moments of genuine tension.  It simply lacks the overwhelming sense of dread and urgency that Sicario had.  In its place, the sequel gives us a fairly more straightforward, if not at times convoluted, plot that still does manage to recreate the edge of your seat sensation.  The fact that only the screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, is the sole behind the scenes talent to come back for the sequel does not hamper things at all.  Despite a new director and cinematographer, the movie still feels like it has a similar tone and look to the first.

Since Emily Blunt is gone, this brings Brolin and Del Toro to the forefront of the picture, and fortunately, they both give performances that are worthy to carry the film.  Brolin's Matt Graver is a no-nonsense CIA operative who manages to be fairly cool and collected in just about any situation, even when he is employing torture to interrogate a suspect.  As for Del Toro, his hitman character Alejandro, remains unflappable in the face of mounting tensions that bring the two men together once again.  We don't know a lot about Alejandro, but we're not supposed to.  He is a hardened killer who still pines for the family that he lost.  That's about all we know, and Del Toro is able to make the character work, giving a performance that is cold and lethal at times, but can also be heartbreaking at others.

The plot kicks off when the two men are brought together again to aid the American government.  There has been a rise in domestic terrorist attacks in the U.S., and the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) and one of his followers (Catherine Keener) have decided that the best way to keep America safe is by clamping down on the U.S. and Mexico border, which the terrorists are using to enter the country.  It is soon decided that a war between the drug cartels, who control the tunnels into the southern U.S. states, would be to their advantage.  They bring Garner in from North Africa to lead the campaign, and he in turn brings Alejandro into the job.  The plan is to kidnap Isabel (Isabella Moner), the preteen daughter of a cartel kingpin who has a connection to the murder of Alejandro's family, and make it look like it is the work of a rival cartel.  If the cartels wind up killing each other over these staged events and kidnapping, then the U.S. government doesn't need to get their hands dirty.

Of course, things are not that simple.  It turns out the Mexican police that are aiding in the mission are dirty, there's a lot of betrayals and backstabbing, and naturally the government decides to pull the plug on the whole operation when it starts to go south, leaving Garner to have to make some hard choices.  As for Alejandro, he eventually becomes the protector of Isabel when they get separated from the rest of the group, and have to rely on each other in order to make it to the border.  Their relationship makes up the central heart of the film, and it can be quite touching at times as they learn to trust each other.  Young Isabella Moner is able to hold her own in all of her scenes with Del Toro, and shows a natural screen presence for a child actress.  And while he never quite loses his antihero status, Alejandro does get to show a somewhat more softer side that Del Toro is able to make work.  Their relationship ends up being the most important one in the film, and they're a big reason as to why the film ultimately works.

Day of the Soldado does not have the kinetic impact of the first, but that doesn't take away from the fact that this is still a strong, exciting and at times emotional follow up.  At the very least, it's an edgy summer movie that's been built for adults from the ground up, which is a rare thing in the current superhero-inflated market of blockbusters.  Supposedly there is another sequel planned, as the film was planned from the beginning as a trilogy.  I don't know if a third installment is exactly one I'll be dying for, but I would be happy to see another return to these characters if we get the chance.

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