Sicario: Day Of The Soldado


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Sicario: Day Of The Soldado
"There are deeper moral questions, ones sufficiently metatextual that I in the audience began to feel and fear complicity." | Photo: Columbia Pictures

Sicario: Day Of The Soldado is a sequel without number, one that within its own narrative admits to being a return to something that worked, albeit a success with collateral damage, hidden costs. Sicario defined its eponymous protagonists as hit-men, hired killers, and it's a difficult line to draw between that business and soldiering. They have a lot in common. Sicario was about difficult lines, and so too its sequel.

They have a lot in common. They both start with an explosion in the desert, and from there escalate, and quickly. There is a moment during an attack on a big box discount store, the kind where even suicide bombers come in a multipack, when there is almost nothing but pleading, whimpering, background bleeding. Impersonally lit by those neon strips, framed by those aisles of high-piled bargains. Figures move. Left, slowly, left, hesitantly, left, hopefully, left, fatally.

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It's hard not to read that moment politically. That might be my projection, but it's in a context that cannot but be read in the contexts of American interventions elsewhere. It's explicit to the text that the rules of desert conflicts elsewhere have been brought to the neighbourhood. Rules that see Benicio Del Toro's Alejandro brought back, his handler Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) given a free hand, reins dropped, unleashed. They have a lot in common. There's a moment of observation, verbatim "You're not a policeman, you're a soldier". It's said to a lawyer, but these are not men of law. The law is treated as a luxury, but it's hard not to be mindful of Thomas More and the Devil.

In Sicario it was Emily Blunt's FBI agent who was at once passport and carte blanche for what followed. In Day Of The Soldado our ticket into the world is Isobel Reyes (Isabela Moner) and though her circumstances mean she is no stranger to violence there are questions of degree, and scale. There's also Catherine Keener's Cynthia Foards, an apparatchik of America's enduring wars, freedom of action hers to give. There are meetings - not perhaps the same rigorous variety of Shin Gojira - these are off-the-record, over-dinner, the bureaucracy of black sites and back rooms and barracks. There's the old saw about breaking and buying, but here it's that what's being purchased is destruction, at a cost high enough to let someone buy their own hockey team. That's part a moment of humour that deepens the darkness elsewhere, that bourbon bon-mot is part of a cocktail of considerations. They are as small as a house literally in the shadow of the border, as large as a convoy slicing across the Rio Grande, as light as letters of love spelled out by trigger fingers.

I was reminded of an older drug war technothriller, Clancy's Clear And Present Danger - Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan remains the best of them - and behind the scenes the influence of names like John Milius, Philip Noyce and Steven Zaillan could be felt. Here it's Taylor Sheridan scripting again, already rumours of a third Sicario in the works, directorial duties passed from Denis Villeneuve to Stefan Sollima. In my review of his film Suburra I suggested that if you liked it you try Sicario, and it's clear I wasn't alone in spotting that similarity. It was only after the fact that I realised that Roger Deakins didn't lens Soldado, Dariusz Wolski has drawn a similar crispness from moral murk. They have a lot in common.

Though those immediately behind the camera haven't returned, there are plenty of others who have. What's in front of the camera is much the same too, but there are deeper moral questions, ones sufficiently metatextual that I in the audience began to feel and fear complicity. This is a sequel where one of the stated goals is doing the same thing again - on camera, in an un-minuted meeting. One where we watch over wifi in a shipping container that does not exist as Soldado escalates from Sicario's waterboarding to our era of drones. Hildur Guonadottir's score makes use of them. She's worked with sadly missed Johan Johannsen enough that re-use of his piece from Sicario, The Beast, does not feel jarring other than in the ways the score itself seeks. This is a continuation, a repeat, reprise, reprisal.

There is some that's new. Elija Rodriguez is early enough in his career that this is his first screen appearance, though he had a voice-role in The Book Of Life. His transformation runs through the film, and though the stages could be bullet-pointed they feel earned and organic in a film that seems to seek to shock not just morally but structurally, narratively. Redemption can be hard to find but it's rarely as surprising.

That's part of what makes me nervous about Soldado. There's an article of modern military euphemism, an abstract and reductive jargon - "warfighter". There's a particular aesthetic to it, of dirty hands in one place and cleaner hands in others, and those sins and their consumption are part of The Bourne Legacy, are an outgrowth perhaps of other genre outposts like Unforgiven - we're making Westerns again, but other genres of gunmen are more popular. It sometimes seems more likely to see a USAF roundel than a sheriff's star, but that is perhaps missing the point. I didn't see in the credits thanks to the US Department of Defense, to a State National Guard. It's now possible I believe to get the right kind of helicopter from private hands (a literal plot point) and to have flight-lines full of heavy air transport where every plane is just pixels. That lack of co-operation (also a plot point) is perhaps borne of uneasiness. Sicario caused diplomatic problems on its release and failures of diplomacy, of protocol, procedure, inform Soldado.

There was something about sitting in the dark watching as rules were broken, deriving entertainment from the abandonment of the law. Crime films of the left argue that it's just an extension of capitalism (The Godfather's "only business"), of the right that there is a gap between the system and justice (even punks get lucky). Soldado sits somewhere unsettlingly between them, and it may just be that its willingness to sit in liminal spaces, to keep in the borderlands no matter how dangerous an adventure it might become, is part of its intent. I know that it was good as a film, even if I found myself wondering if it was a moral good. I know also that it had a powerful ending, even if its last shot (like many shots before it) seemed to prevent things from happening afterwards. I know that when a door shut with two men behind it much was left to be said. They have a lot in common.

Reviewed on: 23 Jul 2018
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Sicario: Day Of The Soldado packshot
The drug war on the US-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight them, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with Alejandro.
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Director: Stefano Sollima

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, David CastaƱeda

Year: 2018

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Italy


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