REVIEW: ‘Sicario’ sequel is a (mostly) satisfying follow-up

I don’t know if anyone was really asking for a “Sicario” sequel, but I sure as hell won’t complain.

Denis Villeneuve, who directed the first picture, didn’t helm “Day of the Soldado.” Instead, Stefano Sollima enters the director role and did solid work in crafting a crime thriller. The movie picks up sometime after the events of the previous one, with tensions along the U.S.-Mexico border reaching a boiling point.

The reason for such intensity is because some cartels have allegedly started smuggling terrorists over the border. Following a terrorist attack in the heartland of America, federal agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is recruited because of his experience on the border and is sent to throw the cartel system into chaos, and subsequently ruin their drug empires. To help, Graver once again teams up with the mercenary Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro).

The “Sicario” sequel takes audiences down a very different path than its predecessor. Instead of being about a young, relatively naïve agent seeing the true extent of what some federal employees do to combat America’s enemies, “Sicario” 2 is a more focused approach on the missions conducted by the United States’ covert operatives.

From this standpoint, the film’s concept makes total sense. The first film featured a character who was a newcomer to the sort of under-the-table type of operations going on with the U.S. government. However, since viewers have already been introduced to that thanks to the events in the original, the audience no longer requires that vantage point, and can simply dive into a story about a mission like the one featured here.

It’s something that both helps and hinders the movie. On the latter, it is true that the film lacks the shock and surprises of the original, as an audience who’s seen the first will be accustomed to what’s happening on screen.

However, at the same time, the new vantage point does still hook an audience. Instead of being through the eyes of a proverbial rookie to the situation, this film tells its story from the point of two grizzled, experienced men, introducing viewers to new depths about who they are and what they do.

Also, while the picture doesn’t include as many shocks and surprises in relation to just how bad the situation on the border is, it still provides some depth on the matter. This is especially true in how reactive it portrays the United States government toward cartel activity.

There was a major issue with the movie, though, and it was a similar problem that I had in the original film. In the first movie, there was a sub plot about a corrupt Mexican police officer and in this picture, there’s a subplot about a teenager who helps immigrants cross the border. In both films they’re mostly unconnected to the main story and the plot threads only converge at a single point.

In both cases, and in this one especially, this was a problem because it kept cutting away from the film’s main focus. It’s understandable that these characters and their subplots give the movies a sort of “day-in-the-life” viewpoint on the border. However, at the same time, they have such little impact on the main characters from a developmental standpoint and seem to act like plot devices.

It’s also noticeable that the movie’s narrative structure isn’t as tight as its predecessor. A tall order, for sure, but the fact remains that the story isn’t as well built together as the 2015 flick. This is especially true in the third act.

Going back to the positives, immense credit needs to go to the lead performers. As expected, Academy Award winner Del Toro and Oscar nominee Brolin do great work here as the cold, calculating operatives. Both actors bring intensity to their roles and have nailed the thousand yard stare. At the same time, though, behind their demeanor, the film shows that there’s more going on in their heads.

Credit should also go to Isabela Moner, a young actress who gave very convincing performance as the daughter of a cartel leader.

Technically, the film is also sound. Despite not having legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, the movie still features fantastic shots while also containing a good score and decent sound work.

“Day of the Soldado” already seems to be a divisive movie with many critics split on it. As a crime thriller, though, this one has enough to satisfy an audience from my perspective. 4.0 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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