Sicario Soldado Jeffrey Donovan Benicio del Toro Josh BrolinYear: 2018
Director(s): Stefano Sollima
Writer(s): Taylor Sheridan
Region of Origin: USA

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 122 mins

Synopsis: Cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro. (Source)

The original Sicario was a tremendous achievement. It was an unforgivably bleak look at the fight for dominance within the America/Mexico drug wars, painting a locked cycle of violence, addiction and apathy. It made us helpless to the horrible things transpiring, and by proxy, complicit. It was also a film about the bigger picture, offering an existential conflict that dissected self-destruction and a rising tide. Picking up where things left off, Sicario: Day of the Soldado takes the original and deepens its focus. Armed with an even darker script from writer Taylor Sheridan, director Stefano Sollima focuses not on drugs, but the most valuable commodity of all: human lives. Serendipitously arriving during a peak border crisis, Soldado takes no prisoners. It’s not as distinct as its predecessor (nothing could be), but is able to stand on its own, never shying from ideas that we’re afraid to confront, and exploring the varying cost of a life between each of its unsavory characters.

After a terrorist attack close to the American/Mexico border, the U.S. government is forced to act. This action comes in the form of enlisting CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who, in turn, calls on the help of an off-books mercenary named Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). Given full authority for extreme measures, Graver and Gillick are tasked with starting a full-on war between two major cartels. To do this, the pair turn their efforts towards the daughter of a high-profile kingpin, kidnapping her in order to create a false flag event. Though the initial heist goes off as planned, it kicks off a chain of events which prove to be near uncontrollable. As things turn dire for everyone involved, Graver and Gillick find themselves at a point of no return.

With the action centered around Graver and Gillick, Sollima dissects two loose cannons left to their own. Both are consumed by a sense of duty, yet their morality is one twisted beyond recognition. Without mincing words, there is no guiding light or sense of hope here, just evil and more evil. It’s through this that Sheridan and Sollima allow the film to stand apart from its predecessor, focusing on the human lives reduced to pawns between its characters’ terrible tug-of-war. Gillick’s story in particular takes us places we don’t expect, with Sollima and Sheridan somehow making us root for someone we should despise. Overall, the film balances gritty, relentless action with very smart, complex character work, dropping us into the middle of a gruesome war without heroes or a safety net. Those looking for empty thrills won’t find them here – this is a series of of desperate and brutal acts, enacted upon in the face of an unwinnable war.

Sicario Soldado Benicio del Toro Isabela MonerWith its macro focus, Brolin and del Toro keep the film afloat. Brolin’s Graver is allowed more layers this time out, beginning the film as someone not afraid to get dirty, and ending up somewhere else altogether. Brolin’s swagger and devil-may-care aggression turns out to be hiding something  underneath, and the actor is as charismatic as he is deplorable at times. Once again, it’s del Toro’s Gillick who commands and steals the film. Like everyone else, Gillick has two sides, his conflicted self and the side he shows everyone else. In this way, del Toro thrives on nuance, swaying from lethal to sensitive at the flick of a switch. A lot of the film’s complexity comes from del Toro’s character, who keeps us constantly on edge as we question our own moral limits. On the side, Isabela Moner holds it down as the film’s pivot point, while Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine and Elijah Rodriguez full everything out in unpredictable ways.

There’s a lot going on in Soldado: Day of the Sicario. It’s not a film that can or should be just reduced to a few plot points, but the start of many conversations that are timely and necessary. From the shady government alliances, to the false media narratives, religious extremism and wanton violence, Sollima and Sheridan’s film isn’t easy to sit through. It’s probably the opposite of what most are looking for in today’s climate, but at the same time something that needs to be explored, echoing the lack of decency in our current Administration. This is the best sequel that could’ve been made given the circumstance, one that forges its own path forward without sacrificing the difficult questions that made its predecessor so resonant.