Director: Stefano Sollima
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner
There’s a well documented phenomena in the movie industry, certainly Hollywood, that seems to afflict big movie studios. The primary cause is greed and lack of originality. The dreaded sequel syndrome has struck at the heart of many a promising trilogy or franchise and it has another victim in its sights. The first Sicario was a fantastic film. A self contained story that explored important themes, featured the talents of Emily Blunt, Roger Deakins and the directorial genius that is Denis Villeneuve.
I really didn’t think a sequel was necessary and neither did Stefano Sollima or Taylor Sheridan clearly, because the only real connection to the first film is Matt Graver and Alejandro Gillick.
Day of the Soldado is this potential Sicario trilogy’s attempt at doing the Dark Knight. It shares the same universe as the first film but is essentially another self contained story. That hasn’t changed my opinion about returning to this world any however, Graver and Gillick are back but that special spark is missing. Only time will tell whether they pull a Dark Knight Returns and attempt to interconnect the three with a returning Villeneuve and Emily Blunt or if they’re going down the Jason Bourne route with countless sequels that meander all over the place before ending without a meaningful conclusion.
It starts with a bang, literally, with an illegal Muslim terrorist blowing himself and border patrol officers up after a brief chase and stand-off. This theme continues with spectacular fashion onto the next scene with multiple men detonating explosive jackets in a grocery store. I have to say, I did enjoy the way that whole scene was filmed. It put the audiences in the shoes of a passerby caught up in the fracas. It had an extra bit of emotional bite too, especially with the handful of real attack’s that have taken place in the U.K. and France recently. It’s this atrocity that’s responsible for kicking off the story and bringing Mr. Graver into the proceedings.
Anybody who has seen the first Sicario will know what you’re getting with Matt Graver. He’s an unflinching, cavalier, leader of men that will do anything to get results. We get a perfect visual representation of that when he interrogates a political prisoner and calls an air strike on his familial home to hammer home the point that the US has other, more lethal means of getting answers in the current day. This is the morally grey man that the CIA/DoD task with handling the terrorist issue. He quickly deduces that it’s the Mexican cartels who are responsible for sneaking them across the border and recruits his old friend, Alejandro, once more before attempting to incite a civil war.
There’s an interesting conversation around this point between Graver and the President where the definition of terrorist is discussed. Which incidentally, is a group of person that will use any means necessary to gain a political goal. This almost perfectly describes Matt and Alejandro to a lesser degree and further highlights the moral ambiguity of the so called ‘good guys’.
They don’t mess around either, performing a series of false flag attacks across the border to stoke up violence and turn Mexico into another Iraq. Gillick effortlessly assassinates a high profile lawyer, linked with the Matamoros cartel, in one slick and quick fire manoeuvre. That’s one thing I can’t have any complaints about here, the action sequences throughout are consistently excellent and exhilarating. There’s another equally well executed operation shortly afterwards with the kidnapping of the rival cartel leaders daughter, Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner). There’s a fake ‘rescue’ mission and then the corrupt Mexican police spice things up nicely, leaving Isabela and Alejandro stranded.
Del Toro is thrust into the humanising figure in the absence of Emily Blunt and in fairness to him, he nearly fills the void. He has a fair few tender moments in the midst of the anarchy, mostly during his time spent bonding with Isabela, who presumably reminds him of his dead daughter. He even turns rogue in an effort to save his young companion after some intel comes in showing that several of the terrorists were actually American natives. This is a problematic discovery to say the least after the explosive antics that preceded it. The operation is called off and Isabela is deemed expendable thereafter.
Benicio is a great actor but you just can’t humanise a decidedly more brutal and less nuanced story. Indeed, Sollima and Sheridan took the decision to deliberately make a more brutal story with little to no morals, which I suppose is fair enough, it’s their creation after all, but for me it lacked something in the absence of a Kate Macy. She was the audiences perspective into this murky underworld of criminality and state endorsed political manoeuvring and the absence of humanity was badly felt in the midst of the unabated, unadulterated violence that personified the large parts of the film.
It wasn’t just the decision to go for a moral free story that left a bitter aftertaste in my ultimate enjoyment of this film. The story as a whole felt decidedly average for a Taylor Sheridan project. I love the man, he’s a brilliant writer and he’s penned some of my favourite films in recent years, but this one just felt muddled in parts, confusing in others and stagnated in the Mexican desert. There was little evidence of any real character development outside of Alejandro’s humanisation and the fatherly protectiveness of Isabela he exhibited.
The ending felt rushed and unfinished too and was left open for another film that’ll presumably see Gillick taking the young ex-smuggler who shot him through the jaw under his wing. Whether I can muster up enough energy to care after this effort is another thing entirely.
Day of the Soldado was never a film that I wanted. I think there’s something to said about a great one off, self contained story that stands the test of time. I’ll never understand Hollywood’s incessant urge to fire out sequels willy nilly. That being said, I can’t sit here and say this film was the worst I’ve ever seen or that I didn’t get any enjoyment out of it because I definitely did. The choreography, especially during the swat manoeuvres was slick and every bit as good as the original. The performances were pretty decent in the main, certainly from Brolin and Del Toro, and as a bit of escapism, then it certainly scratched an itch.
I’m not going to get into the clear satire about American nationals being every bit as dangerous or likely to create terror as an extreme Islamist because it’s Taylor Sheridan and the man always finds ways to intelligently implement complex themes into otherwise superficial action fair. Donald Trump’s idiotic, knee jerk, presidency is an open goal for guys with his intellect.
Would I recommend this? Yeah, I probably would. It’s not a patch on the original, which it will always be compared against, because it shares the name, but it’s a decent enough watch.