By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario was one of those brilliant films for which I did not expect, or desire, a sequel. In fact, the one way I really wanted to see a sequel was if both director Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan were both on board. Well, with Villeneuve keeping busy with last year’s extraordinary Blade Runner 2049 and now with work already underway on a Dune adaptation, my wish would not come completely true. Sheridan has returned, though, and with Italian director Stefano Sollima at the helm. Sicario: Day of the Soldado actually is a sometimes compelling, always thought provoking sequel, but one that does fall short of its predecessor. Still, as far as sequels go, the film is still very watchable and gripping, as long as one doesn’t go in with unreasonable expectations.
Both Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolun return as morally charcoal gray characters Alejandro Gillick and Matt Graver. Since the last film, terrorist attacks in the U.S. has risen, thanks to some deals made with the Mexican cartels who have helped the terrorists cross over the border from Mexico. After one particularly alarming atrack on U.S. soil, the government seeks the help of Agent Graver to intervene. With the help of assassin Gillick, Graver and his team attempt to start a war between the cartels by staging a kidnapping of Isabela Reyes, (Isabela Moner) the daughter of a Mexican drug lord. When the mission goes poorly, both Gillick and Graver find themselves at odds, and Gillick must protect the life of Isabela before the U.S. agents attempt to “eliminate” evidence of their mission.
Sheridan’s story and plot takes his morally questionable characters into even more complex territory and does some great work in further developing them. The film plays out similarly to a Leone western with the “protagonists” experiencing some conflicts of morality and loyalty. Sollima shows some proficiency as a director with some intense action sequences and scenes where tension is built up beautifully. The film does start to drag in its later acts and staggers a bit towards its conclusion. The whole experience feels a bit lopsided, but is compelling and entertaining enough.
It is great to see both del Toro and Brolin in these roles of frightening, but almost scarily charming warriors who don’t have quite a handle on the situation, as they do in the first film. It is also fun to see Jeffery Donovan reprise his role as Steve Dorsing, a smart-ass member of Graver’s team. New cast members Elijah Rodriguez, David Castaneda, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo deliver great performances as immigrant smugglers who cross paths with the film’s leads. The film also features appearances by Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, and Shea Wigham, all of whom are fine in their respective roles, but don’t exactly offer any impactful performances.
As far as this movie is concerned, it just doesn’t have the same impact as its predecessor. It has some really great moments, but fails to land that jarring punch of awe that both Villeneuve and Sheridan did. Still, I recommend this sequel for fans of the first installment if they simply temper their expectations. Should the producers decide to make another, I hope that they have a better script and perhaps a better director. I did like Stefano Sollima’s work, but Denis Villeneuve is a tough act to follow.