Title: Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Describe This Movie In One Excalibur Quote:
URYENES: Are you with us, or against us?
LEONDEGRANCE: Against you!
Brief Plot Synopsis: I see no reason this false flag operation could possibly go wrong.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 People's Fronts of Judea out of 5.
Tagline: "No rules this time."
Better Tagline: "There were rules *last* time?"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: A brazen terrorist attack on American soil is tied to Mexican narcotics traffickers. In retaliation, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) tasks (alleged) CIA operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) with instigating a full-on war between Reyes (the drug lord responsible) and the Matamoros cartel. Graver enlists the help of his old operative, attorney-turned-assassin Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) and they hit upon the idea of kidnapping Reyes' daughter Isabela (Isabela Moner) and making it look like a cartel job. Things quickly go awry, of course, putting Graver and Gillick on opposite sides of the mission.
"Critical" Analysis: If you're looking for uplifitng movies celebrating the innate goodness of mankind, you should probably avoid the works of Taylor Sheridan. The writer of Hell or High Water, the original Sicario, and Wind River (which he also directed) tends to focus on the struggle against systemic corruption and entrenched bureaucracy. In the original Sicario, Emily Blunt's idealistic FBI agent at least provided a moral center. She's missing from Day of the Soldado, making this movie even more despairing than the one preceding it.
How so? It opens with suicide bombers blowing up women and kids in a Kansas City big box store, for starters. And because at least one of the bombers came to the United States across the Mexican border, the government gives Graver a great amount of leeway and resources in fomenting what it hopes will be a drawn-out and costly cartel war. As with the first Sicario, loyalties shift and allies aren't always on the same side. It's a formula for paranoia and uncertainty, which Sheridan and director Stefano Sollima deliver in spades.
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Motivations are also murkier this time around. Graver is still focused on the mission at hand (a spiritual successor to Clear and Present Danger's Mr. Clark), but feels loyalty to his old associate. On the other hand, the characterization of Alejandro makes less sense. In one scene he's brutally emptying his clip into a cartel lawyer, the next he's found a newfound appreciation for life: that of Isabela Reyes, the daughter of the drug lord who had his family murdered, no less.
But wait, you're saying: didn't Fausto Alarcón order the murder of Gillick's wife and daughter? And didn't he kill Alarcón in the the first Sicario? He did, but apparently Alarcón was merely a henchman. It helps not to think to much about it, and just settle in for a quest for vengeance that will doubtless conclude in Sicario III: The Search for Sinoloa.
Blunt's absence aside, Day of the Soldado's biggest problem is in giving us no one to root for. Kidnapping victim Isabela would be the most obvious candidate for sympathy, but she's established as being fairly unpleasant and entitled from the get go. Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), the McAllen teen who falls in with a cartel and who crosses Gillick's path early on, seems quite happy with his choices, and that mostly leaves Graver, who shows no compunction about executing a prisoner's entire family in order to extract info, or Gillick, who (as we just covered) killed an entire family in retaliation for the murder of his.
And this is doubtless Sheridan's intention. Few modern screenwriters capture the futility of resisting monolithic institutions, be they governmental, military, or financial, like he does. If the original Sicario danced around with that theme before eventually driving it home, Day of the Soldado drags our faces through it for two hours. That it manages to be (mostly) compelling, in spite of a plodding third act (and some heavy-handed — if accurate — political commentary), is testament to his skills.