Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a solid sequel that is sorely lacking in identity.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Sicario wasn’t a film that was crying out for sequel. Denis Villeneuve’s (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) potent concoction of crime, war and cop procedural was a perfect storm of pulsating intensity and atmosphere that told a punchy, concise story. It was self-contained and exited stage left with an emotional, gut-punch of an ending. Done and dusted, mission accomplished.
With most of the creative talent that made its predecessor such a success now absent, Sicario: Day of the Soldado doesn’t have a lot going for it on paper. Along with Villeneuve, lead actress Emily Blunt is gone, as are cinematographer Roger Deakins and Icelandic composer Johan Johannsson, the latter of whom sadly passed away last year. All signs are pointed squarely at Day of the Soldado upholding the grand tradition of half-baked follow-ups that coast along on the residual goodwill of its forebear. Y’know, something like Speed 2: Cruise Control or Jurassic Park III.
And while Day of the Soldado is conclusively not as bad as either of those, it certainly begs the question – why? Why does this film exist? Why does every mildly successful film have to become a franchise?
The film centres around US operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, in his third major role of the year) and Mexican hitman Alejandro Gillick (a brilliant Benicio del Toro), who are sent back across the border to stir up trouble between powerful Mexican drug cartels. The US Government wants the cartels fighting one another rather than smuggling terrorists into the States, and so the black ops duo are tasked with kidnapping Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a high-profile drug lord. When the mission goes awry, Graver and Gillick are forced to cover their tracks, even if it means betraying their country and one another.
A taut screenplay from returning scribe Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River) is what puts Day of the Soldado over the line. Sheridan’s proclivity for creating compelling characters both big and small, from a high-school kid caught in a cycle of violence to a deaf goat farmer just trying to survive the harsh Mexican desert, is what immediately grabs you in Day of the Soldado.
It’s elsewhere that this sequel struggles. Sicario, the first one, was a suffocating experience for cinemagoers. It was draped in an unshakeable curtain of fear and tension; death or a fate worse than death lurked around every corner or behind every door in Villeneuve’s film. And the audience was along for the ride every step of the way, courtesy of a compelling surrogate in the form of the Blunt’s Kate Macer.
That gripping, stomach-churning atmosphere is noticeably absent in Day of the Soldado. As good and as talented as the filmmakers are, the finished product is simply lacking the polish and the depth of the first film. The cinematography is familiar but flatter. The score, save for a reprisal of Johannsson’s powerful hooks at the end, is imitating rather than innovating. If Sicario is an extravagant wedding cake with delectable icing, Day of the Soldado is one of those $5 Woolies mudcakes; still good, but not as special or as memorable.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is available in Australian cinemas from 28 June
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films