Movie Review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

The sequel to the 2015 hit is already out of date on US border issues

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Sicario 2: Soldado)
Directed by Stefano Sollima
With Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Catherine Keener

Some films suffer from bad timing. Sicario: Day of the Soldado takes us to the US / Mexico border with some convoluted plot about terrorists and drug cartels — right as the actual US administration has implemented harsh zero-tolerance policies that split children from their parents as they try to enter the country.

It is hard to sit through the cynical fiction of Sicario: Day of the Soldado and not think of the recent headlines, which put the story of border crossings in a bit of a different perspective.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a sequel to the 2015 hit film Sicario, which was directed by Denis Villeneuve. He has made several clever films both before and after it, including the tense kidnapping drama Prisoners and the sci-fi epic Blade Runner 2049.

The sequel, helmed by Italian crime drama director Stefano Sollima, lacks that sense of style. It plays as routine action thriller, but without any remotely likable characters on either side of the law.

Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin return from the original film as two hardened black-ops agents. Sorely missing is Emily Blunt, who gave the original a moral compass. Without her or anyone in her place, the film is just some US agents breaking all sorts of laws to implement a policy that is questionable at best.

The basic premise is that some prayer rugs have been found at the US / Mexico border. Department of Justice officials jumps to the conclusion that Islamic terrorists from the Middle East are infiltrating the US through the border with the help of drug cartels.

To stop the cartels, CIA operative Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) comes up with the idea of kidnapping the teenage daughter of a cartel kingpin and taking to her to the US.

What connection this could possibly have to stop Islamic terrorists from entering the US is thin at best, and never really explained beyond the idea that it will get cartels to fight each other somehow.

As anyone who follows the news knows, they are already fighting and don't need help in that department.

Normally a kidnapped girl would be a sympathetic figure, but Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner) is from the start depicted as a spoiled brat who starts fights at school and them bullies the principal because she knows she can't be expelled due to her cartel connections.

Still, she is the victim in the film. Despite her family's connections she does not deserve to be kidnapped and used as a pawn in a violent international game.

Actress Isabela Moner previously appeared in Transformers: The Last Knight as a tough tomboy.

With the headlines currently filled with stories about families separated at the US border, the plot about US secret agents kidnapping a Mexican girl hits all the wrong chords.

Josh Brolin has had several good roles recently, including Cable in Deadpool 2 and Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. When given good material, he can create an interesting tough character. Sicario: Day of the Soldado doesn't give him enough to work with. His role boils down to a bunch of cliches about black ops.

Benicio del Toro does a bit better, as he is able to show off some of his skills at creating a character later in the film.

Catherine Keener, who recently had a good role in the horror comedy Get Out, turns up for a few lines but never gets a chance to do anything. Matthew Modine, perhaps still best known as Private Joker from Full Metal Jacket, makes an appearance as the secretary of state. He also fails to score any points and delivers just a generic characterization of a politician.

The musical score consists of ominous bass notes played over and over to remind the audience something tragic is going on. Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson scored the first film but passed away earlier this year. Hildur Guðnadóttir, who played cello on the first film, did the score, using some of Jóhannsson's themes.

If the action in the film had been more interesting the score would have worked. Instead, it serves to point out that the plot is not living up to expectations.

The depiction of the current border situation is out of step already. There is no mention of constructing a wall for example. Of all the agencies shown in the film such as the FBI and the DEA, there is no mention of ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is currently in the headlines for its border control actions.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is off to a bad start. The generic filming style and low-key acting keeps it from ever taking off.

It is a shame, as currently, the issue of immigration could benefit from a serious onscreen discussion. But that can't be found here.

The complex situation at the border can be told well, Steven Soderbergh's 2000 film Traffic, which also stars Benicio Del Toro, presented a multi-level look at issues in the framework of a compelling drama.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado just uses the border as an excuse to stage some violent scenes.

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