Taylor Sheridan, and everyone involved, are better than this.
Picking up some time after the now saga’s phenomenal 2015 entry, the cartels are still that big a priority for the US Government, their on-screen semi-surrogate (Josh Brolin) and the eponymous man himself (Benicio Del Toro) that everyone’s alright if things get “dirty.” Child abductions, daytime executions in the middle of Mexico City and yet another ambushed convoy are all par for the course in this follow-up.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado, continuing a story that wasn’t essential to continue, ensures it is close enough in tone and style to its predecessor so every fan of the original will go see it. This time around lacking the presence of Director Denis Villeneuve, Cinematographer Roger Deakins and recently deceased composer Johann Johannsson (to whom the film is dedicated), the bare imitations here (if still above average contributions for like fare) pale in comparison to the considerable impact of their combined skills.
Sans Emily Blunt’s dogged DEA agent and devoid of a sustained audience surrogate with whom we can share our sense of bewilderment and horror at being thrust into this labyrinthine world, we are asked instead to empathise with Del Toro’s hitman, here front and centre throughout who, mask aside, is a much less compelling figure. The original’s creativity, feeding so well off Del Toro’s brazen yet imperceptible enigma, is not recreated here, nor is there such a character study; the rumination and deduction of which only a few years ago so well reflected the films own moral turpitude. To be sure similar themes are explored in the sequel, though are done so all to too literally and never long enough to get in the way of the action and things going boom.
There is no scene in this one like the masterful 2015 conclusion as one character silently trails a gun on another. The moral tension and ambiguity then reaching a fulcrum as we too were forced to reckon with how far off the path seemingly just characters can stray, the morality tale is instead here largely encapsulated by a new face, that of a young man who gets tied up with shepherding people across the border. His early intrusion in the main narrative, a painfully and singularly awkward coincidence on which the film hinges and never quite recovers its dramatic standing, too serves as one of the blatant acts of foreshadowing thankfully absent from the original.
The return performers are reliably excellent as are newcomers Catherine Keener and Isabel Moner, the former of whom is not proffered a role requisite of her talents. Instead her Government shill is settled with delivering a number of directives without which the larger action scenes would not have progressed and absent which the film would have made a lot more sense. Maintaining a sincere, storied tone throughout that doesn’t quite gel with this plot’s needless theatrics and illogicity compared to Sheridan’s relatively more grounded first screenplay, conversely this feature, or more accurately Del Toro, deserves credit for carrying in the latter portions one of its most graphically spectacular happenings.
The sequel concludes with one of its most memorable and fairly entertaining set pieces, evidently inspired by its more outlandish forbears too centred on the cartels and border occurrences (ala Breaking Bad) which have since come to characterise this distinctly new style of thriller. Recommending these modern series’ as a western-inspired genre unto its own, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a worthy addition to this canon (which will no doubt in turn be ceaselessly imitated), but by no means its best.
Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is in cinemas now