Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Taylor Sheridan was an actor on the successful show Sons of Anarchy. He ended up writing the screenplay for Sicario which was well-received (Writers Guild of America for Best Screenplay nomination), and then an Oscar nomination for the amazing Hell or High Water. He followed that up with a movie he wrote and directed, the terrific Wind River. With that upward trajectory, I was really looking forward to the Sicario sequel (despite it’s awful title “Day of the Soldado”). It’s a shame that Sheridan didn’t direct this, and Stefano Sollima did. Sollima decided to make an action picture instead of exploring some of the tension and politics that go on at the border.

The movie starts by showing us some terrorist bombings. One of them is at a grocery store in Kansas City, and another shows a suicide bomber at the border. Since human trafficking is big business for the drug cartels, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought in by the government to kill some cartel members, kidnap the daughter of one, and get them fighting among themselves. My wife and I weren’t exactly sure about the logic behind all that, or why they made many of the decisions they made (one character in the movie also brings up some of the bizarre logic in kidnapping a girl [Isabela Moner] and bringing her into America). And a lot of the actions and amorality of the characters just doesn’t ring true. It’s all dark and grim, and gory. It lacks focus and purpose.

Anyway, Matt calls up his old partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who is told there are no rules this time. That’s the catch phrase written on the movie poster, which had my wife asking me as we walked in, “Were there rules last time?”

A lot of the individual scenes in the movie were compelling. It was shot well, by talented cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Alien: Covenant, The Martian, Prometheus). And hey, if you have to replace Roger Deakins, that’s a lovely choice. Wolski shot a few scenes where the skies looked beautiful, and a couple times I thought of No Country for Old Men (which was shot by Deakins).

There’s an eerie, brooding score that works to add a touch of tension.

All that was needed was a more interesting script. I don’t want to see two guys just going all Rambo with machine guns in Mexico. It’s as if Sheridan didn’t quite understand exactly why people liked the first movie. I mean, if he was writing a sequel to Wind River, would it just show five women being raped on an Indian reservation, instead of developing complex and interesting characters we care about?

Former Chula Vista resident Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Vision Quest and more recently in Stranger Things) is great in a few scenes, as the stern Secretary of Defense.

Catherine Keener is solid, although she’s not given enough to do. She basically comes in and gets Brolin off and running, and then has to be the bad guy that comes in and pulls the plug.

This movie is convoluted and confusing, but it was nicely paced. Often times, you’re on the edge of your seat; it all makes you wish for a better film.

2 ½ stars out of 5.