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edge staff writer


‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ a star-crossed sequel

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We’re all aware that sequels and franchises are the primary drivers of Hollywood’s economic engine. That’s the nature of the beast, so it’s something to which audiences have grown accustomed. But every so often, a sequel will come along that is surprising in that its very existence seems to be unnecessary, leaving you to wonder … how? Why?

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is one such head-scratcher, a sequel to 2015’s excellent “Sicario,” a taut, subversive thriller which starred Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and wound up with a couple of Oscar nominations. “Sicario” was a really good movie – and a story that needn’t go on.

It seems that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan had more to tell, however, and so we get this weird and unexpected sequel; Stefan Sollima takes the reins from Denis Villeneuve. Blunt is gone, but Brolin and Del Toro are back. The result is a movie that isn’t nearly as thoughtful or challenging as its predecessor; the amorality of its primary figures is largely untempered. In essence, the first film’s misguided-but-present moral compass is replaced with gunfire and action-movie nihilism.

Government agent Matt Graver (Brolin) is continuing his ethically questionable efforts to fight against the Mexican drug cartels, doing whatever it takes to win an unwinnable war. But when terrorist actions lead to the cartels being declared terrorist organizations, Graver is brought in by his superior Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener, “Incredibles 2”) to meet with Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine, “47 Meters Down”); he’s given the green light to take down the cartels by any means necessary.

That means starting a war – a war between cartels that will take care of the warring factions before Graver and his team swoop in. Starting that war requires some less savory actions – actions that his former partner Alejandro (Del Toro) will be more than happy to undertake. Among these actions is the kidnapping of young Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner, “Transformers: The Last Knight”), the daughter of one of the cartel leaders.

With ruthless efficiency, the team carves through the girl’s security detail and takes her, whisking her away to an undisclosed location where they can execute their plan – that is, to “rescue” her from her kidnappers and return her home, only to leave her in the territory of a rival cartel where she will almost certainly be killed and her death will be the spark that ignites the flames of war.

However, rampant corruption, an uncommitted U.S. government and a few bits of bad luck lead to an inability to complete the mission as planned. Graver and Alejandro are each left to battle their way through circumstances that are not of their own making and ultimately fight for their lives.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a well-made action movie; it has some good set pieces and some strong performances. The story is an interesting flavor of convoluted, which is enjoyable enough, and it has a decent look. On its own merits, it would be pretty good.

But as a companion to the first film, it comes up short. It has nothing resembling the complexity of its predecessor, choosing instead to double down on grim and intense dude energy that completely destroys any shot at subtlety or nuance. It treats the border as little more than an obstacle, rather than acknowledging what it actually means.

Director Sollima is an Italian filmmaker making his Hollywood feature debut. He’s got a good eye, though an overreliance on wide and overhead shots robs the film of some of the impact generated by the beautiful bleakness of the desert setting. Still, he’s clearly a gifted visual storyteller. And Sheridan’s screenplay is good, but lacking in shades of grey.

Brolin and Del Toro are gamers; whatever faults this film might have, none of them should be blamed on their performances. Both men have a talent for presenting a certain flavor of anger, a blend of stoicism and sadism that is disconcerting and engaging as hell. Brolin is almost affectless, yet gives the impression of a pressure cooker about to blow. Del Toro wears more of his rage on the surface, which makes the decisions he makes even more interesting.

The rest of the cast does good work as well. Moner is wonderful as young Isabel; she holds her own with a couple of dour powerhouses. It’s a deceptively difficult part to play and she nails it. Keener is suitably sour in her handful of scenes, while Modine is just smug enough in his. Jeffrey Donovan gives some good “That guy!” Elijah Rodriguez is quietly effective as a young man getting pulled into the business of illegal border crossing. It’s a solid ensemble all around.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a fair action thriller. It just doesn’t live up to the film that came before. The truth is that this movie’s biggest problem is its name; it simply doesn’t look as good when viewed through the sequel lens.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Saturday, 29 December 2018 22:26


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