After taking a breath and realising what a fantastically dark ride 2015’s ‘Sicario’ was, I never expected a follow up. It didn’t set one up and people weren’t calling for a sequel but here we are; without supremo director Denis Villeneuve and director of photography Roger Deakins. Does that weaken the horrendously titled Day of the Soldado or is there merit to be found?
In light of some bombers reaching American soil, the US Government employs Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to get dirty and stop the Mexican cartels; who they believe are smuggling terrorists across the border. Matt hires black ops guy Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to start a war between the cartel groups.
Three years ago we were presented with this boiling pot of tension and a strained political tug of war, with Emily Blunt thrust into the dangerous landscape. Now with director Stefano Sollima on board and Blunt’s Kate Macer out, the story is a different kettle of fish. What worked for the first film was Taylor Sheridan’s script, we were on side with Kate, not knowing why they needed her and her gradual understanding of the shady tactics being utilised was an interesting narrative arc. This film’s plot isn’t as neatly focused and it becomes a wider exploit on Mexico and the US Government, it’s also an odd feeling to be along for the ride with Matt and Alejandro; who weren’t exactly characters to like or trust the first time around.
In ‘Sicario’ there were indeed bloody moments but these suited Kate’s worrying immersion into a world painted as a grey area. For me I couldn’t get past the idea that a good proportion of ‘Soldado’ was bloodier and violent for the sake of violence, plus the trigger blasting sight of del Toro firing like a maniac took me right of the film because it just looks dumb. The violence generally unnerved me and felt like a visceral jolt but there wasn’t great reason behind it, mirroring the sense of this sequel being made.
On the plus side, I still think this was a good movie. There was more tension coursing through the veins of the drama compared to before, if that’s somehow possible. Hildur Guonadottir’s score picked up on the familiar sounds of the late, great Johann Johannsson and added further swells of palpable unease. A stand out sequence with a dust road convoy is expertly executed and later stages with Gillick and his journey are nicely unexpected.
There’s still a chilling aura on show, thanks to Sheridan’s handle on the returning characters and it’s clearly a film identifiable as part of the gritty, bleak ‘Sicario’ brand, but it’s let down by a looser, disappointing story and perhaps too much brutality. They’re obviously eager for a 3rd film and though I didn’t really want ‘Soldado’, I’m more than happy to see what the trilogy could end like.