Saturday 17 July 2021

Movie Review: Sicario: Day Of The Soldado (2018)

A cross-border thriller, Sicario: Day Of The Soldado introduces and abandons multiple story lines before defaulting to a bland survive-and-bond-in-the-desert narrative.

Middle Eastern suicide bombers target civilians after being smuggled into the US by Mexican human traffickers. The CIA's Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) identifies the Carlos Reyes cartel as responsible for large-scale smuggling operations, and Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) provides Matt and his boss Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) a free hand to disrupt the cartel's activities.

Matt recruits private operative/assassin Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) into the operation, and along with a group of mercenaries they hatch a plan to kidnap Reyes' daughter Isabel (Isabela Merced) and pin the blame on the rival Matamoros cartel. They hope to ignite an inter-cartel war to weaken both gangs, but after abducting Isabel, Matt and Alejandro battle with corrupt Mexican police forces, causing an international incident and compromising the mission.

A sequel to the 2015 original, Day Of The Soldado (also known as Sicario 2: Soldado) arrives without star Emily Blunt and director Denis Villeneuve, and suffers accordingly. Taylor Sheridan returns with a new script, but appears uncertain whether to go bigger or smaller, eventually getting literally caught in no man's land at the border. As a result, and despite the sturdy presence of Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, director Stefano Sollima does not know which way to target his firepower. 

The introduction is promising enough, connecting human smuggling with terrorist atrocities and the Islamic State menace. But unfocused convolutions quickly seep in with a detour to Somali pirate land accompanied by several logic leaps to pin the blame on Mexican cartel leader Reyes, but this villain will not grace the movie with his presence.

Instead Matt and Alejandro get busy plotting to ignite a war between rival cartels, then proceed to shoot themselves in the foot by transporting Isabel into the United States and announcing the fact to Mexican officials, who are of course utterly incorruptible. Sheridan is either mocking the competence of US-funded intelligence operatives, or writing in a state of desperate distraction.

The war-between-cartels idea is the next one to be discarded, and the film trundles from initially lofty ambitions down to Alejandro and Isabel on the run and tangling with sweaty but nameless and irrelevant goons, complete with the obligatory intervention of sympathetic locals providing refuge. Somewhere in the debris of truncated storylines is a teenager on the US side of the border getting lured into the lucrative life of crime, but his adventure serves mostly to unnecessarily prolong the running time beyond two hours.

A couple of action scenes are well-executed, and the Dariusz Wolski cinematography is full of edgy flair, but this soldado is caught in the open, hobbled by uncertain priorities.

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