Movie Reviews: Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)

If I was thinking of films that I wish would get a sequel, Sicario would not be on that list.  Released in 2015 and starring Emily Blunt, it was directed by the great Denis Villeneuve (then coming off Prisoners and Enemy) and telling of an attempt to take down a Mexican drug cartel.  It wasn’t the timeliest of films (as the number of homicides in the city of Juarez had fallen from 3,500 to 311 in the past five years), but it was really good and most importantly self-contained.  It also had a heck of a supporting cast including Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, and Jeffrey Donovan (the guy who wasn’t Bruce Campbell on Burn Notice as even my mom knows him) and a script from the man who would write Hell or High Water and then write and direct Wind River.  But since then, Villeneuve has gone on to bigger and better things and the Mexican immigrant debate has become inescapable.  But don’t you worry at all; no one will ever mistake Sicario: Day of the Soldado of being relevant.

It’s tempting to start Soldado (the original, easier to say title) on my shitlist for losing Blunt in the transition, but aside from only explaining what a “sicario” is if you happen to hear the word and read the subtitle (it’s a hitman, this film has nothing to do with hitmen), it works perfectly fine as a separate film.  Del Toro, Brolin, and Donovan all return here with del Toro taking the center stage.  It’s a good thing too because he’s the only actor in this movie who is compelling at all, who feels like a full character, who actually commands the screen when he appears.

Instead, Soldado started on my shitlist with a pair of terrible opening scenes that are just embarrassingly bad and out of touch.  It’s clearly meant to provoke and while it does propel the entire plot, it just means the film ends up getting lost trying to justify what the hell this has to do with prompting the US to want to start an internal civil war between drug cartels, but I guess they mostly succeed in that I eventually stopped trying to rationalize it.  Brolin heads up the task force with del Toro on it and given the okay to go dirty.  Brolin’s had such a great year, but this is just him doing a tired Tommy Lee Jones with some hackneyed dialogue and occasionally yell about how this isn’t the kind of reason he thought he was fighting for. Catherine Keener shows up to oversee them all and I’m pretty sure in one scene they didn’t even cut out her walking away and grabbing her paycheck.

There’s also another side plot with a Mexican teenager who is being drawn into the world of criminal life on the border.  It is disconnected for a large portion of it, bland, and the actor (Elijah Rodriguez) is a void of charisma.  He is clearly meant to have an arc too, but we never get a sense for who he is.  He just shows up and does his thing each time as if we are going down an invisible checklist.  We also get a kidnapped teen played by Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight, a film I had forgot existed, let alone came out last year) who is a bit better and could have stood to have more sustained screen time.

The film is more violent than I remember Sicario being, but cartoonishly so and going for shock moments that never come.  It’s filled with explosions and people getting gunned down but none of it has any impact save for one which did only because it was so loud, the jump scare of the action world (though you can see it coming).  The score by Hildur Guðnadóttir (replacing the late Jóhann Jóhannsson) is overblown as if the filmmakers are trying (and failing) to will their movie exciting.  The cinematography in The Crow and Dark City are some of my favorites, but let’s be honest, Dariusz Wolski is not Roger Deakins and the film lacks the visual inspiration of the first film or much of any at all.

The film once or twice runs up against an actually relevant idea but at best they are left to offhanded remarks.  There’s a clear sequel hook for a third film that I’m not sure if it was more laughable or infuriating.  There’s so much room for a film discussing US-Mexican relations, violence in Mexico, and the border, but this is not that film.  It is ill-suited to all those tasks, offering nothing new or worthwhile to say.  And no, I am not just bitter that Sorry to Bother You wasn’t listed as playing at the theater on Thursday night until I saw it listed above a theater sign and I had already committed to seeing this damn movie.  At least now I am finally caught up on my theater backlog.