Sicario 2: Soldado (aka Sicario: Day of the Soldado) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There’s a far bitter taste to the despair of Day of the Soldado, a darker sequel to the already depressing Sicario. It takes aim on the no-win war of Mexican cartels once more but does away with its stray bits of contemplation and dwindling morality that makes the punches hit harder. Without Emily Blunt present to grit her teeth as she struggles to seek justice when dirty tactics are pulled on both sides, we’re left with a typical thriller of sour emotions for watching the corrupt law versus corrupt gangs. It’s still an engaging experience but nowhere the same degree as its predecessor which had something to say about the drug wars. Day of the Soldado doesn’t say much besides suggesting a look at how terrible this situation is with no end in sight. And because it lacks a relatable character, that message is likely to get lost in the action.
The returning characters of CIA agent Graver (Josh Brolin) and loose-canon operative Gillick (Benicio del Toro) have been given more room to practice their dirty gang-busting tactics in the wake of recent terror attacks believed to have spawned from border-jumpers. Realizing a full-on war is not as sustainable, they devise a strategy to make the cartels fight amongst themselves. Their plan is to kidnap a cartel boss’ daughter and stage her kidnapping as that of a competing cartel. It sounds simple enough to the CIA with their hefty amount of tracking technology and extra firepower. But it won’t be. Things will go wrong, alliances will be broken, and blood will be spilled.
I expected things to go south but not to such an explosive level. The gunfire, car explosions and violence has been ramped up to a degree that borders on audacious. And considering there’s no Blunt equal to find some semblance of humanity left in this struggle, our protagonists are the ones in the wrong, easy enough to lead the audience into uncomfortable laughter. Take the scene were del Toro guns down a Mexican gangster in the streets of Mexico City, letting his victim live long enough so he can impressively fan the trigger. We should be shaken by the scene but its staged in a manner more fitting of a Death Wish sequel.
All things considered, what does hold the film up are the performances. Brolin still has a bold nature to his straight-faced approached to rather dirty and bloody tactics to win by any means necessary. He walks into any room and you know he has enough control to not only play by his rules but mock others that defy him. Benicio del Toro is just as intimidating with a weary expression of loss that fuels his ruthless nature to effortlessly gun down gangsters and toss grenades in their cars. I even dug Katherine Keener as the higher-up that chews out Brolin’s methods as the narrative gets muddier.
It feels strange that the hopeless atmosphere is ever present and yet never feels fully utilized in this story of drug wars gone awry. Nothing new is given to us in Day of the Soldado; only a repeat lesson in how horrible the world can be in a battle that lacks empathy on the part of its warriors, leading us down a never-ending tunnel of despair that can only go lower. But without any character left to break down and crumble as the night grows thicker, all we’re left with is the smoldering ashes of civility that continue to burn. There’s still some spark left for the commentary it weaves but it's a sorrow flame so faint that you’ll have to peer to appreciate the picture past its simplistic action showcase.