James Cole Clay // Film Critic
SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO
There’s no way director Stefano Sollima and writer Taylor Sheridan could have foreseen the implications their film SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (terrible title) is having in relation to the real world immigration crisis going on in McAllen, TX. The film takes on a muddled, yet highly affecting story that shows horror in its most real forms.
SICARIO 2 uses its setting to weave together a story that quickly boasts about “having no rules” and then proceeds to muddy the river of blood with lots of government-enforced red tape. We begin by following federal agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) through the border war that’s dominated by cartels and sex trafficking. Graver is questioned at one point early on, “What is the cartels greatest asset?” He responds with: “In the ’90s, it was cocaine. But now [slight pause], people.” His cold response tells the truth and the constant fest that’s being inflicted due to the cartels. So, as they say in action films of this nature, “all bets are off.”
Luckily, Sollima opts to ground the film with a lurking sense of dread that connects all the characters in this world. This causes Graver to recruit his old pal and fellow water-boarder Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) on a mission to start a war on the sly with the cartels. The method: kidnapping.
While SICARIO 2 finds its own voice through its creative talents, the sprawling visuals and relevant subject matter just lacks the elite talent of SICARIO director Denis Villenueve and cinematographer Roger Deakins. However, the nasty behavior that takes place at the border. The film randomly choosing its victims, as this isn’t a cautionary tale; just a story of horrific happenstance, which is all the more chilling given the stark reality of this systemic problem.
Where the film finds most of its success is with its portrayal of the U.S. military and their “by any means necessary” attitude. We’re never asked to gauge the morality of the situation, or its characters. We only observe through a passive gaze that bolsters the message and unavoidable politics of this film.
While the film is mired in grave circumstances, there’s time for a little bromance between seasoned pros Brolin and Del Toro, who relish at the chance to look completely badass on-screen. Make no mistake, this is a film looking to tell stories of underrepresented communities first, but mirroring that with white privilege and machismo is where you are able to see these worlds collide in a fashion that feels honest albeit less subversive than the original.
It’s so difficult not to directly compare SICARIO 2 to its original, but those looking for action will find it here. Those searching for political intrigue will get what’s promised. Even though it doesn’t live up to the predecessor completely, Sollima and Sheridan supply us with more of this world than one could ever desire.
Following the tradition of SICARIO, HELL OR HIGH WATER and now SICARIO 2 (all written by Sheridan), it behooves these story lines to be directed by a filmmaker who isn’t American. The outsider perspective provides so much more than jingoist politics that follow lesser films such as AMERICAN SNIPER. If you get anything from SICARIO 2, it’s that Americans are so quick to blame others and act out of fear. It may be a naive sentiment, but let’s make a change.
SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO opens nationwide on Friday, June 29.