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‘Sicario’ Sequel is a Step-Down on Most Every Level

Jim Carrey’s 1994 is usually accepted as the hottest year an actor has ever as he starred in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber.” I’d be willing to bet that history will look upon Josh Brolin’s 2018, between “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Deadpool 2” and now this, with equal amounts of praise.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a sequel to 2015’s “Sicario,” a film that starred Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro and received critical praise and three Oscar nominations. Brolin and del Toro return here as they get sanctioned by the US government to launch a false flag operation in order to start a war between the Mexican drug cartels. Stefano Sollima takes over directing duties from Denis Villeneuve while Taylor Sheridan returns to write the script.

I enjoyed the first “Sicario” film. Shot by now-Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (it feels so good to say that) it looks gorgeous and features several brilliantly directed sequences including the border bridge scene (which has to be one of the most YouTube’d movie scenes in recent years). No one really felt a follow-up was necessary, although they tossed out the idea of del Toro’s hitman Alejandro Gillick getting a spin-off, yet here we are three years later. And does “Day of the Soldado” justify its existence? I mean, not really.

I like Taylor Sheridan as a screenwriter and after some felt he was snubbed for his work on the first “Sicario” he earned an Oscar nomination for 2016’s “Hell or High Water;” I also really enjoyed his (“not”) directorial debut last year with “Wind River.” His scripts are all pretty straight-forward and based in reality, with tension and a take on the modern Western that engross the viewer and drop them into the world, whether that is dusty Mexico, the wide plains of Texas or the snowy northern US. This is his first script that doesn’t really have his staple on it, as the first act jumps around from Mexico to Kansas City to Africa and then back to the U.S. all in about ten minutes. So much is happening and it is easy to get lost, which like I said is unusual for a Sheridan script and it feels either he mailed this thing in as a sequel cash grab or the studio just accepted his first draft without polishing it.

The film is sold as, and starts out with, Josh Brolin’s CIA agent Matt Graver being tasked with turning the Mexican drug cartels against each other after the US labels them as official terrorist organizations. This may seem cool and interesting but once he and del Toro kidnap the daughter of a cartel leader (Isabela Moner) the film becomes something else entirely. I really think watching the CIA team continue to commit staged attacks and assassinations would have been a much more interesting (and exciting) film but instead most of the time is a “Logan”-esque road trip.

“Soldado” just feels like inferior to its predecessor in every way, like a student who loved “Sicario” wanted to pay homage to it as their final project. Not to say the quality is poor but the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir (who collaborated with the late/great Jóhann Jóhannsson on the first film) features a lot of the “Inception” style “BWONG!” sound effects but not much of the tension. While Deakins’ shots looked gritty yet beautiful Dariusz Wolski’s is just grim, which I supposed matches the tone and outlook on the world that the film is trying to depict. Neither of these are hindrances as a whole but in a film that so desperately wants to be compared to what came before, they can’t help but feel like steps down.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a well-crafted and well-enough acted and in some sense its bleak and brutal depictions of violence and the current immigration situation are to be commended. It is just sad that the film takes way too long to figure out what it truly wants to be and that creates some pacing issues. The first film was slow but it had a building sense of tension as the noose got tighter; here, it doesn’t build to much which just leaves the audience feeling bored. There are a few sequences I’m sure I’ll YouTube in the future and the least-demanding action-thriller fans may get their money’s worth, but by most accounts this is just a letdown of a film.

Critic’s Grade: C

‘Sicario’ Offers Uneasy, Intense Thrills

Sicario_posterIf this film is good for anything, it’s reaffirming my desire to not visit Mexico anytime soon.

“Sicario” stars Emily Blunt as an ambitious FBI agent who gets involved with a government task force (led by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) in an effort to bring down a Mexican drug lord. “Prisoners” director Denis Villeneuve helms here.

This was one of my most anticipated films of the fall ever since the first trailer dropped. I adored “Prisoners,” the cast looked great, and cinematographer Roger Deakins is one of the best we’ve ever had. So even though “Sicario” isn’t the masterpiece I hoped it would be it is still an intense, wonderfully-wound thriller about the war on drugs.

The best things about “Sicario” are from the people who stand behind the camera. The film is shot beautifully, which like I said shouldn’t be a surprise since Deakins was the Director of Photography. He and Villeneuve implement aerial shots throughout the film, which shows us the vast scope of how much of a No Man’s Land the southern U.S. border and Mexico really are.

While marketed as an action film, you should know there isn’t much gunplay in here. Instead, Villeneuve makes the entire film have an uneasy, dangerous sense about it; you feel as if any character could pull put a weapon at any moment. The best sequence in the film takes place on the U.S.-Mexico border bridge, and it is as intense as any scene I’ve seen in a while, very possibly since the climax of “Prisoners” (which I’m still shaking from).

The acting in the film is solid across the board, but Del Toro stands out. Throughout most of the film he is a silent observer, you don’t know much about him or his motivations except “he goes where he’s sent”. But in the film’s final act, Del Toro flips a switch and becomes an incredibly different person, and this simple man suddenly becomes a multi-layered character study.

I wasn’t annoyed or off-put by “Sicario’s” slow pace, it adds that uneasy tension to the film, however outside of Del Toro’s character the film never truly builds to anything great. Blunt’s FBI agent is more of a pawn than an actual player in the film, and the plot itself plays out like a more sadistic version of “Breaking Bad” (to say, there aren’t any huge twists; the “twist” is pretty much given away in the trailer).

“Sicario” is one of the movies that you appreciate the more you let it soak in. It is certainly an adult film if there ever was one, and an uncomfortable one at that. There are mutilated bodies galore and the entire experience itself may make you want to take a shower, but I am glad I went on the ride. It is a good, not great film, which is a bit disappointing considering all the talent involved, but I still think “Sicario” is one of the better films of 2015.

Critics Rating: 7/10