The sequel to the critically adored “Sicario” opens with a jaw-dropping reveal.
The on-screen violence is partly to blame. The rest? We’re not used to seeing this side of the immigration debate on the big screen.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” opens with an Islamic extremist blowing himself up after attempting to cross the southern U.S. Border. Minutes later, we watch more terrorists bomb a midwest convenience store. The screenplay even name drops ISIS in the first five or so minutes.
Is franchise screenwriter Taylor Sheridan of “Hell or High Water” fame making a statement?
Not really. The film soon drops us back to the U.S.-Mexico border, a place where the good guys need a refresher course on Morality 101. The bad guys? Don’t ask. It’s all credibly staged, but there’s something unnecessary about the fledgling franchise all the same.
“Sicario” star Emily Blunt didn’t sign on for the sequel. Instead, we get more screen time for Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Their characters are drawn back to the ongoing border dispute with a mission to ignore the rules.
And they’re only happy to oblige.
Brolin’s federal agent Matt Graver is tasked with whipping up war along the border, hoping to draw Mexican cartels into a drawn-out war. Meanwhile, Del Toro’s mysterious Alejandro helps foment the war by kidnapping cartel leader’s daughter (Isabela Moner) and pinning the blame n a rival.
Sheridan’s still young screenwriting career is a thing of beauty, but his dialogue here smacks of action film necessity.
“Dirty is exactly why you’re here…”
“No rules this time…
You get the drill.
The Islamic angle is fresh and raw, but it’s a feint all the same. The story’s focus is on both human trafficking along the border and the inhumanity of all those connected to the border dispute.
That’s what the first movie delivered. So re-delivering that message hardly feels fresh, let alone necessary.
— Sicario (@SicarioMovie) June 9, 2018
The original centered on Blunt’s character. We saw her slowly grasp the intractable nature of the border debate, losing a part of herself in the process. We needed that kind of on-screen surrogate, a vital cog missing here.
Sheridan’s Islamic storyline is subversive to the core given the tenor of modern Hollywood. His screenplay still doesn’t devolve into political talking points. The subject remains delicate in our divided times, but the scribe isn’t willing to throw red meat in either direction.
FAST FACT: Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan grew up on a cattle ranch and started herding cattle at 14.
The most intriguing element in “Soldado?” A Latino youth named Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez) recruited into the cartel life. We get an early glimpse of his family life -- a doting mum and a stable home front. He’s a willing participant in criminality all the same.
The thumbnail sketch is maddeningly slight.
Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score grows bombastic as the final moments arrive. The emotional heft? It’s simply not strong enough to ride the sonic wave. The film ends on an unrealistic note albeit one intended to extend the franchise.
That hardly seems necessary, but it’s not the worst news to hit Hollywood of late.
HiT or Miss: “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is feel bad cinema, told with the necessary grit and too little to differentiate it from the original.