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Review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Sicario: Day of the Soldado
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PLOT: After discovering that the cartels are helping smuggle terrorists across the border, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is ordered to assemble his team, including Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) so that they can instigate a cartel war to destabilize the regimes. To that end, they kidnap the daughter (Isabela Moner) of a drug lord, framing a rival cartel, but the plan quickly goes awry.

REVIEW: SICARIO was my pick for the top film of 2015, and it still stands as both my favorite Denis Villeneuve film, as well as my favorite Taylor Sheridan project. That’s saying something, as both have had impeccable careers since. To me, it was a perfect film, but when I heard they were making a sequel without Villeneuve, I was wary. First, the original ended perfectly well and didn’t cry out for a follow-up, and second - why do it without Villeneuve? My fears were allayed by Taylor Sheridan writing it, but I was still worried that this would be a huge mistake.

Lucky then that SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO is an extremely effective follow-up. Even without Villeneuve, DP Roger Deakins, or the late composer Johann Johannsson, SOLDADO captures the spirit of the original and feels more like a true follow-up than a pale imitation. Director Stefano Sollima goes for a slightly more documentary-like approach as opposed to the near-operatic style Villeneuve did, and that’s a smart move, as it makes the movie his own.

However, this also allows writer Taylor Sheridan to emerge as the real voice of the series, with him digging into a whole other facet of the drug war that wasn’t explored in the first - namely that people are the new commodity of choice for cartels. Like the rest of his work, there’s a major social conscience at work, even without an audience surrogate like Emily Blunt in the original. Brolin especially proves to be an exceptionally cynical tool for his government, railing against his superiors and some (but not all) of their ice-cold orders - although in the end he’ll still do what he’s told.

If Brolin didn’t mix-in the dirty work so much in the first, the sequel put him on the front lines, with him and his point man, Jeffrey Donovan’s Forsing (who offers the closest thing to there is to comic relief), doing away with dozens of players by the end. Yet, like the first, SOLDADO isn’t an action film, and at best you’re supposed to be conflicted about the action you’re seeing on-screen, as well assembled as it is. This is an important distinction and keeps the movie from becoming just another actioner.

Probably the biggest departure from the first film is in the fleshing out of Alejandro, with Del Toro humanizing him to a degree through his relationship with Moner’s character, and an episode that gets him thinking about his murdered daughter. Again, he’s not turned into a hero, but we get glimpses of the man he was back before they were killed. It works, and it helps that Del Toro is at his most charismatic. With now two films under his belt, Alejandro is quickly becoming his signature character.

As far as tech credits go, DP Dariusz Wolski proves himself no slouch, giving the film a crisp look that’s unlike the original, but works well on its own. By contrast, Hildur Guonadottir’s score sounds exactly like Johansson’s for SICARIO, even using some of the themes, but it helps give the movie continuity. Sollima makes it feel different, but not that different. Others may also bristle at Blunt’s absence, and indeed the movie has a different macho energy than the first, but Moner has an effective side story involving a teen gang member, which keeps the humanity in check.

My only beef, and it’s a minor one, is that SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO ends on a note that teases another installment of the series and to me that’s a bit problematic, as who knows whether a third will ever be made (even the first was only a modest box office success). So, while this is among the better sequels I’ve seen, it’s the open ending that keeps it from going to that next level where I praise it as being as good as the original. Still, it’s very close.

Source: JoBlo.com

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