In 2015 “Sicario” stunned critics by becoming one of the best movies of the year, so it was no surprise that a sequel was immediately greenlit. Part two, “Day of the Soldado,” is now in theaters and it’s an even darker, intense film than the first.
After a devastating suicide-bombing attack in a supermarket, the U.S. government decides to take on a more aggressive approach to tackle the war on terror. When it becomes clear that one of the attackers was smuggled into the country by Mexican drug cartels, the CIA deploys Matt Graver and his partner Alejandro Gillick, who have previous experience in battling the cartels.
Graver and Gillick develop a plan to abduct Isabel Reyes, the daughter of a drug lord, to incite a war between rival syndicates. After a successful start, the mission goes awry when the team tries to hand Isabel to the other cartel and they unexpectedly attack the Agents during the exchange. Amongst the gunfight, the girl runs away with Gillick following her. Graver is then ordered to eliminate his partner and Isabel since she knows too much. The unlikely duo goes rogue and tries to make it back across the border alone.
Three years after “Sicario,” a lot of things have changed. Stefano Sollima replaces Denis Villeneuve as director, and Sollima created an even darker film than Villeneuve; he also made the movie a personal drama with action inserts. Sollima, well known for his Italian series “Gomorrah ” about the Mafia, switches the crime syndicate but maintains his grim and hyper-realistic take on a modern-crime thrillers. If the first “Sicario” was too brutal for you, don’t even attempt to watch this one.
Another change happened behind the camera: Dariusz Wolski replaces Roger Deakins, who worked with Villeneuve on Blade Runner 2049. Obviously Wolski can’t reach the level of perfection of Oscar-winner Deakins, but he’s not far behind. Even in complex shoot-outs he maintains clarity, and his usage of satellite, drone and night-vision imagery makes watching “Sicario 2” a painfully realistic experience.
There was also a major change in the sound department: Hildur Gudnadottir replaces Johann Johannsson, who tragically died earlier this year. Her score is just as intense as Johannsson’s for the first movie, and it is a wonderful homage to honor her late colleague. The movie is also dedicated to Johannsson as he was an integral part of the first movie’s success.
Taylor Sheridan provided the script again this second time around, and it takes an interesting turn in the “Sicario” trilogy: this time it’s a little less focused on the morality of the war on drugs but on the politics behind it. The first half of the movie is similar to the plot of “Clear and Present Danger” from 1994 without being a simple copy. It seems that the political entanglements in the war on drugs and border protection haven’t changed much in the last 24 years. If anything, it just got worse.
Benicio Del Toro, who was already praised for his performance in the first movie, steps up his acting another level. Josh Brolin also gives a solid performance as Matt the CIA agent, who is even more sinister and tougher than before. However with Emily Blunt, one of the few optimistic characters from the first movie, absent from the film, the war on drugs will get even more devastating. Eruptive violence, highly complicated geopolitical entanglements, and everything is grounded.
With the success of “Day of the Soldado,” it looks like there will be an entire trilogy focused on covert CIA operations with Mexican drug cartels.
This thriller is not for sensitive viewers and it definitely earned its R-rating. But, if you can stomach the violence (it’s not worse than watching the news) you get to see an excellent contemporary crime-thriller that makes you hungry for part three and hopefully the wait won’t be too long.
Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado (2018)
Directed by Stefano Sollima
Written by Taylor Sheridan
Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski
Music by Hildur Gudnardottir
With Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine
122 min, R-rated