Director: Stefano Sollima
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
Producer: Basil Iwanyk, Edward L. McDonnell, Molly Smith, Thad Luckinbill, and Trent Luckinbill
by Jon Cvack
When I heard they were making a Sicario sequel, I pictured the vast collection of Redbox straight to video action movies featuring 90s superstars. Looking it up as of writing this (July 2018), we got Bruce Willis in a movie called Acts of Violence (2018); Antonio Banderas in Acts of Vengeance (2017); Sylvester Stallone in Escape Room 2: Hades (2018); Nicholas Cage in The Humanity Bureau (2017); and that’s saying nothing for the half dozen B-star movies out there. Recently I discovered a Jarhead sequel called Jarhead 2: Field of Fire (2014) to then discover it’s actually now a trilogy with 2016’s Jarhead 3: The Siege. I do not know a single individual who watches or has ever watched these films without some degree of irony; as for the few times I’ve put them on in passing, I discovered movies so bad you can’t even laugh; created for no other purpose than to make a quick dollar on the video release.
I was certain the Sicario sequel was destined for Redbox purgatory; receiving attention solely for its predecessor’s success. Then I heard that while Emily Blunt, Denis Villeneuve, and Roger Deakins were out, the production retained Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin as Alejandro Gillick and Matt Graver, respectively along with the dorky, glasses-wearing badass, Steve Forsing (Jeffrey Donovan), while Catherine Keener and Matthew Modine were freshly worked into the narrative as Cynthia Ford (Graver's boss) and Secretary of Defense James Riley. What results is a pretty good sequel, reminiscent in style to Halloween 2 (1981); retaining the overall vibe, though with much larger set pieces.
The film opens with a drone’s infrared camera looking down at the Texas/Mexico border where a bunch of migrants cross. The border patrol swarm into the area, surrounding the travelers and rounding them up into vans before a Muslim man says a prayer and blows himself up, killing a few of the officers. Shortly after, a group of Islamic terrorists enter a grocery store somewhere in middle America, blowing themselves up and killing two dozen or so patrons; including a mother and her daughter.
American forces respond by brutally slaying a series of alleged terrorists and the CIA arrest a Somali pirate who has information on the terrorists. He’s taken into a bunker where three jugs of water lie on the ground. Graver says it’s not for waterboarding; they’re in a black site and Brolin is permitted to do whatever he wants. In this case, he has a drone in the sky locked on the man’s house where his family, including wife and children, are residing, and another locked on his brother’s car which is driving down a long desert road. Graver wants to know information about why the pirate would allow Islamic terrorists access to the shipping lanes.
Per action movie convention, the man says he doesn’t know anything. Instead of some tense build up, Graver simply counts to three and the drone fires a pair of missiles into the house; killing everyone inside. He then turns to the brother and the man explains the situation, which I can’t at all remember; other than that it leads him to meet the Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) where the three discuss how cartels are allowing Islamic terrorists into the country in exchange for money; led by local coyotes who earn big money. Somehow the men agree to start a civil war between the competing Cartels for reasons I don’t understand and can’t seem to find out with a cursory search; other than that maybe they destroy each other and disrupt the business of smuggling in any terrorist over whatsoever.
At fifteen minutes into the film, I started having my doubts. Beyond failing to follow what exactly was happening is the hyper amount of violence. We see a woman and child exploded, a half dozen alleged terrorists slaughtered without due process, and a suspect's family brutally slaughtered by the American government. What made the first work so well was that the graphic violence all operated within the realm of reality; motivated by what made sense from the situation rather than working its way back from the most violent scenes possible.
However, once I somewhat understood the plot (i.e., cartels getting Islamic terrorists in through the southern border), the film recovers and offers scenes close to, and at a few moments, every bit as thrilling as the original.
The film develops two subplots: 1) following a young Latino-American teenager Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez) who’s cousin gets him a high paying job as a coyote; that is, to help with get migrant families and the terrorists across the border and 2) the daughter of one of the cartel’s top leaders, Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), who’s also introduced in a needlessly violent fistfight where she beats the shit out of a fellow student and is then sent to the principal's office where she reveals her immunity and is released untouched.
The plan is simple, Graves hires his old crew, along with mercenary Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to pose as a rival cartel member, kidnap Isabel, and kickstart the civil war. They carry out the plan, taking Isabel back to a safe house where a blindfolded Isabel is then “rescued” by American forces and taken back to a bunker for safety. Watching the police arrive at the crime scene where the kidnapping took place, the team finds the police killing the two bodyguards in cold blood; suggesting that a few might be on the cartel’s payroll.
Not wanting to harm Isabel, the team loads up Isabel into a Humvee caravan to return her to the father (I assume saying they rescued her from the rival cartel) and so we get to the best scene of the movie; offering a thrilling and expertly crafted companion piece to the original’s highway scene. Taking inspiration from Children of Men (2006), the bulk of the scene is shot within the car, cutting on occasion to the drone’s POV that follows the invaders. They’re escorted by local police units across the border and into rural Mexico and within a mile or so, they’re attacked by RPG’s. The drone takes them out, but then the police, bookending the caravan, stop and turn their weapons on the escort; attempting to murder the Americans. While I’m not sure what the police were hoping to accomplish by killing American CIA members who’re in armored Humvees, the shootout was one of the better offered in recent years. Isabel escapes, and again logic’s a bit faulty in somehow she is able to run away without anyone noticing, far enough so that at the end of the five minutes or so sequence, they somehow can’t see her running up a hill; leaving Gillick to volunteer to go and find her.
With it now looking like the operatives slaughtered a bunch of Mexican Police, both Riley and one of the CIA commanders Cynthia Foard calls the mission off, refusing to rescue Isabel and draw the government further into the mess. I’m not sure why the Americans feared looking guilty when the Mexican police clearly opened fire on them, or why they’d be willing to forego saving Isabel, but Graves nevertheless tells Gillick to abort; to which Gillick (whose own family was slaughtered by cartels) refuses. They end up meeting up with Miguel the coyote, but with the transporters tied up with a rival cartel, the coyotes quickly figure out who they are; attempting to murder Gillick and providing one of the most ridiculous, but somehow kind of badass moments of the film; reminiscent of classical action cinema and crafted in a way that pulls it off. It provided one of the most visceral reactions I’ve ever experienced in the theater.
Taylor Sheridan has been on a hot streak since Sicario (2015), releasing one hit script after another - writing Hell and Higher Water (2016), nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar; writing and directing Wind River (2017); writing and directing the television drama “Yellowstone” and now this. All three films take a grueling look at the American West; examining a moderately conservative view of a deteriorating world. Hell and High Water showed a crumbling, even dystopian, small-town America; scrounging to return to its former glory while fighting against a system that keeps it down. Wind River portrayed a pair of white heroes within an oppressed Native American community; making the same mistake of most Southern White Savior with films such as A Time to Kill (1996), Mississippi Burning (1988) and Green Book (2019) which focused on white characters fighting for the African American community rather than showing the African American community fend for itself.
Similar to both Sicario, Day of the Soldado focuses on a hyper-violent view of the world; in which strength, aggression, and an abandonment of due process makes things right; portraying borders no longer as destinations where those in refuge flee for opportunity, but rather where terrorists thrive, ready to blow up grocery stores and kill Americans; emboldening American fears. Similar to the first, Matt Graves possesses a strange sadistic pleasure in the lawless mission, and the action is thrilling enough for us to remain engaged. And yet when the film ends, I’m left wondering what it’s essentially trying to say beyond support for this philosophy; as ultimately, it’s going rogue that ultimately leads to triumph (even so far as Gillick going to rescue Isabel). On the other hand, there’s a more cynical view of the film. Perhaps Sheridan is trying to show the dangers and brutality of going to the extremes, which might work if the violence wasn’t so glorified and satisfying. Similar to his other work, there’s an acknowledgment of a legitimate and unjust problem, posing a solution that demands violent intervention. While it makes for entertaining action cinema, I’m not sure the outcome is what we’d ever actually want, or need to see in real life.
BELOW: Close to as good of a scene as the original
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