Directed by Stefano Sollima (2018)
Starring Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Catherine Keener
Running time 2 hours 2 minutes
MPAA rating: R
by Hunter Bush
Before this evening, before seeing it, I thought everything about Sicario: Day of the Soldado was...a bit of a mess. The sequel to a movie that doesn't need one, Sicario 2 (as it was originally marketed) traded in the numeric for a subtitle, the linguistic hodgepodge "Day of the Soldado" (soldier). Why not just pick a lane and call it either Day of the Soldier or Dia Del Soldado? It probably has to do with Sony wanting to build a franchise on the good Sicario name and worrying that an all-Spanish title would alienate audiences. That might seem pessimistic but it's obviously the direction Sony & Co. want to head in. Intellectually, that bothers me. It's an obvious, and somewhat clumsy cash-grab. But, if Sicario: Day of the Soldado is what cash-grabs look like in 2018, I'm...kind of fine with it.
Under the direction of Denis Villeneuve, Sicario was spacious, nihilistic, violent and grim; part revenge flick, part examination of the grey morality of the modern war on drugs. It was a war movie as much about existential dread as politics. Soldado maintains a surprising amount of what worked the first time, despite Villeneuve not returning, thanks to director Stefano Sollima, who adds a detached air to all the violence and its aftermath that works for most of the movie. The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is habitually gorgeous and Hildur Guðnadóttir's score is a special kind of intense that works wonders here.
Surprising no one, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro also work wonders in Soldado, bringing humor (Brolin) and humanity (Del Toro) to their characters. Brolin plays Matt Graver, the type of Soldado who doesn't have to answer to very many people for his actions while Del Toro plays Alejandro Gillick, a former attorney turned undercover operative. In Sicario, these men are shown to have very few guiding principles and to care very little about anything outside of accomplishing their mission. These characterizations are preserved for *most* of Soldado, but the third act is brimming with moral one-eighty's that felt shoehorned in, either to assuage the nihilistic vibe or to encourage that franchise by creating unfinished emotional arcs that (they hope) audiences will demand to see to completion.
The only other nagging issues I had with Soldado are some things involving newcomers to the franchise Isabela Moner and Elijah Rodriguez. Moner plays Isabel Reyes, high school-aged daughter of a Mexican cartel kingpin kidnapped by Brolin and Co. on the eve of the U.S. gov't declaring that cartels qualify as terrorist organizations, thereby widening the definition of "appropriate tactics". The plan, kick-started by a meeting with the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine), is a false flag operation intended to start a war between the cartels. Isabel is a tough girl who's smart enough to know how powerful, respected and feared her pops is. Rodriguez, on the other hand, is nobody, a kid who skips high school to get a buzz on with his cousin before joining up as a foot soldier for a local coyote (the kind who guide folks across the border illegally, not the Animal Planet kind). For a movie dealing with the kinds of themes Soldado does, adding two teenage p.o.v.s and not really doing anything with them (yet) seems bewildering.
The door is left open, come Soldado's end, for a denouement and even though Rodriguez's "One Year Later" epilogue is so clunky it could have featured him with an eye-patch & robot arm and not made me laugh any harder, I still trust writer Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario. He created this world and these characters and, it seems to me, is counting on having a third film (at least) to bring these arcs to a close. I still don't get why Sicario got a sequel, but if this were the quality of all unnecessary sequels, I wouldn't have much to complain about.