Film: “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”; Director: Stefano Sollima; Cast: Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener, Elijah Rodriguez and David Castaneda; Rating: **
After a brief introduction about human trafficking and the drug cartel menace at the US-Mexico border, the film opens with two self-immolations. Both acts are visceral and chilling, indicating scant regard for life. This lays the foundation of the narrative of this film, “Sicario – Day of the Soldado”, directed by Stefano Sollima.
Several scenes, with the CIA operative Matt Graver (Brolin) and the DEA, follow to establish the US endeavour to eradicate the threat or menace. When a top secret mission goes awry, Graver is put on the dock by the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine), forcing him to provoke a war between the cartels.
Why? Because that will help stop the transportation of drugs, illegal immigrants and terrorists across the Mexican border.
Graver does so by hiring attorney-turned-gangster hunter Alejandro Gillick (Benecio del Toro) and a few other mercenaries to stage the kidnapping of Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner, a cartel boss’ teen daughter. This sets off a sequence of events that almost immediately spirals out of control.
The premise of the tale seems forced with a convoluted plot. After the clear cut, good-guy versus bad-guy dynamics of the opening act, matters become vague and fluid in the film’s mid-section when Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a 14-year-old US citizen helps a low-end trafficker get people across the border as a warm-up for becoming more deeply involved with a Mexican Cartel.
There is no doubt that the multiple strands twist together to give us a complex tale.
Oscillating between action and emotional drama, by the end, the film feels more like a by-product of the original than a sequel, because the story stands on its own, albeit a by-the-numbers Mexican cartel drama brimming with guns, gore and guys.
While this film does not touch the right chord, it definitely makes way for a third edition.
On the performance front, Emily Blunt who was in the first edition is conspicuous by her absence.
Returning as leading men, del Toro and Brolin do their best to make the film watchable.
Their scenes together are some of the highlights of the film. While Elijah as Miguel gives an intriguing performance as the blank faced adolescent, the teenager Isabela Moner clearly steals the show with her naturally dynamic and endearing performance.
She balances Alejandro’s emotionally laden back-story, with the right amount of dramatics. And her scenes with him, likening to a father-daughter relationship, are intense and relatable.
Cinematographer Darius Wolski’s frames, captured from various angles and lens are commendable. His visuals are aptly complimented with composer Hildur Gudnadottir’s eclectic background score.
Overall, despite being interesting and unpredictable, the film lacks the grit and ingenuity of its original – Sicario, which in Spanish means a hitman. This one definitely misses the mark.