THE STORY – FBI agent Matt Graver calls on mysterious operative Alejandro Gillick when Mexican drug cartels start to smuggle terrorists across the U.S. border. The war escalates even further when Alejandro kidnaps a top kingpin’s daughter to deliberately increase the tensions. When the young girl is seen as collateral damage, the two men will determine her fate as they question everything that they are fighting for.
THE CAST – Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo & Catherine Keener
THE TEAM – Stefano Sollima (Director) & Taylor Sheridan (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 122 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
No Denis Villeneuve. No Emily Blunt. No Roger Deakins. No Johann Johannsson (RIP). But at least we have Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Taylor Sheridan, right? Right!? Sadly, “Sicario: Day Of The Soldado” is yet another in a long line of sequels we did not necessarily need or want, but because Hollywood can never let a good thing just stay as it is, here we are. Featuring Taylor Sheridan’s weakest and most disjointed screenplay yet, this project was probably doomed from the very start. New to the feature film world but no stranger to television, director Stefano Sollima does what he can both visually, from an action set piece standpoint, and with his actors to elevate the material just as Denis Villeneuve was able to do with the first “Sicario.” However, luck truly does not live on this side of the border, and if it ever did, well, then I think it’s about time that Taylor Sheridan’s luck finally ran out.
After a multi-man suicide bombing in Kansas City leaves the U.S. government devastated and drawing connections to the Mexican Cartel, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought in by Secretary Of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) and Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) to use unlimited resources at his disposal to stir the pot and create chaos for the Mexican drug cartels. He plans to kidnap the 16-year-old daughter of Cartel leader Carlos Reyes named Isabela Reyes (Isabela Roner) and make it look like a rival cartel did it. Once family man attorney, now vengeful Sicario (Still means hitman for those that didn’t get the memo from the first film), Alejandro is brought in by Matt with no rules this time to see the mission through. However, as the situation becomes more complex and betrayals are made, Alejandro finds himself alone with the young girl who reminds him of his daughter, who her father had killed years ago, and fighting desperately to get her back to safety across the border.
“Sicario: Day Of The Soldado” should ignite passionate responses in people. It had no business being greenlit in the first place, especially considering so many talented people who made the first film so acclaimed and memorable are no longer here this time around, which means that the blame for why “Sicario: Day Of The Soldado” should rightfully be placed at the feet of Taylor Sheridan. I think it’s time to consider that Sheridan has been fortunate so far in his career, but his flaws as a writer are finally becoming apparent to the masses with this movie when they’ve been there the entire time. “Sicario” was, as mentioned, elevated by Villeneuve and the other talent associated with the movie. “Hell Or High Water” may be his only great screenplay, “Wind River” was a mediocre to a solid movie at best, and now we come to “Sicario: Day Of The Soldado,” which has every right to be called his first widely panned film.
Gone is the emotional attachment to a character such as Kate Macer from the first film, who acted as the eyes and ears for the audience entering into a world they did not fully understand. Gone are the little touches of character development that made Matt and Alejandro compelling enough that many felt they could support an entirely new film on their own. Gone are the morally grey areas that the first film explored so delicately through the character’s actions. Instead, we get more brutal shootings, bombings, massacres, ambushes, executions, and other set pieces which, on paper, may seem compelling. However, take away a cohesive story that acts as a throughline for a complex issue, remove any intriguing new characters (Catherine Keener and Matthew Modine are the only big-name actors here who do absolutely nothing), and give us little to any character development for the characters we are trying to care about (We find out that Alejandro’s long-deceased daughter was deaf and that’s it??) and you have a sequel which deserves the label of being called pointless.
That’s not to say that everything about “Sicario: Day Of The Soldado” is a missed opportunity. To their credit, Brolin and Benicio del Toro are not bad in their reprised roles from the first film (I suppose I should throw Jeffrey Donovan in there, too, seeing as how he was in the first film, but if you don’t remember that, don’t worry because the sequel gives you no reason to care about him this time around either). Still, the screenplay does not flesh them out or add any new layers to their already fascinating portrayals. Isabela Moner as the Cartel leader’s kidnapped daughter Isabela Reyes manages to hold our attention every time she is on screen, but once again, the screenplay chooses the most off-putting scene to introduce this character which makes it hard for us to view her as an innocent caught up in this complex and dangerous situation. The re-use of Johann Johannsson’s famous theme “The Beast” from the first film is a nice touch, and even though the action set pieces are hard to enjoy because of how much we don’t care about the characters caught up in them, they’re still impressive in their brutality and scope, especially in a handoff gone wrong along a dirty, desolated road involving multiple armored vehicles.
“Sicario: Day Of The Soldado” already had many factors working against it. Without the film’s original director, star, or crew members who helped to make the first film a hit with critics and audiences, this unnecessary sequel was always going to live or die by its screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan. Unfortunately, Sheridan cannot do anything meaningful with this film other than highlight, more so than the first film, how brutal, dark and unforgiving the war on drugs is on both sides of the border. He even rehashes the same storytelling device of a seemingly unrelated side plot that runs parallel to the main story of Alejandro and Matt (Remember the police officer and his son from the first film?) and somehow sloppily ties together to everything in the third act. “Sicario: Day Of The Soldado” hides no secrets that there will be a third film, and we shall see the return of Alejandro and Matt again. I cannot honestly say that after this film, I am that hopeful or excited this time around to revisit this world, especially if there is nothing new or interesting to be said.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin do what they can as does Stefano Sollima with some exciting and brutal action set pieces.
THE BAD – This is Taylor Sheridan’s first truly awful screenplay that is devoid of emotion, character development or a cohesive plot. Everything else suffers as a result.
THE OSCARS – None