‘I’ ON CULTURE
The original Sicario, done in 2015, was a tough film about the actions needed to fight the drug war. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, it was somber and complex, mainly focused on Emily Blunt, a conflicted border agent. The new movie, Sicario: Day of the Soldato, directed by Stefano Sollima, tries to mimic that film but fails. Many of the scenes seem like copies of the original, but this time, it is difficult to care for anyone.
The film begins with horrifying scenes. A Muslim infiltrator joins a group of Mexicans trying to cross the border and blows himself and a group of agents up when faced with capture. That is followed by another horribly violent scene showing people blown to bits. At this point, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is called back from Africa to lead a “Mission Impossible” kind of war. The U.S. government does not want to be tied to it. The Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) and a high black ops agent Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) want Graver to create chaos so the people pipeline is disrupted.
He devises a plan to set the cartels at each other; let them kill each other while the U.S. just has to root for more casualties. Graver decides the best way to do it would be to kidnap the daughter of one cartel’s leader to set up a war. As it happens, the kingpin, Carlos Reyes, is the man that one of Graver’s old comrades, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), has sworn to kill because the man had murdered his family.
The girl is kidnapped in a quick, nasty move. Isabelle Reyes (Isabela Moner) is hardly a terrified little girl, but a tough kid, ready to fight. And, of course, things quickly turn into a mess. The girl is kidnapped and a rescue is staged. But on the trip to return the girl, the Mexican police sent to guard them attack and are killed. The girl runs off with Gillick after her. The rest of the film follows them as they try to wend their way back to the U.S. and presumable safety.
Brolin again plays the tough, strong-chinned leader that we have seen in several movies this year. He seems a stereotype; a man who will simply follow orders. And in some instance, he follows that script. But not always. But the movie is Del Toro’s. He manages a wide range of emotions, all underlying his tough surface. A key element of the movie is his relationship with the girl. We are reminded in several places that her father killed his daughter. There are a couple of too-cute scenes, particularly where Gillick uses sign language. He learned it because his dead daughter was deaf. He uses it with a deaf farmer, which pushes credulity to its limits.
A sub-plot involving teenager Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), who is recruited to lead undocumented aliens, gradually interweaves into the story and adds some interesting twists and turns. Moner is particularly good. She is a tough kid at the start, beating up another girl at school for calling her names. After dealing with the violence around her, she is semi-catatonic.
The problem is that this is simply a violent movie. There is no real purpose to it. The hero is, at best, an anti-hero, who is quick to kill. It is hard to enjoy a picture when you really are not able to identify with any of the characters. The sort of sociopathic “hero” is more human and caring than the supposedly normal soldiers. And, frankly, the American politicians are so sleazy, and interested only in politics, that you wish they were targets.
But the film moves quickly and in its own nasty way, is a decent bit of storytelling. The fighting scenes are well staged, and there is a lot of gore. Assuming you have a strong stomach, you might like this well-constructed B movie.