Jacob Richardson | 29/06/2018

Much like it’s unwieldy title, Sicario: Day of the Soldado recalls the original while never truly reaching it’s lofty heights.

After a terrorist attack in the southern United States is linked back to the mexican drug cartels, the US Government gives approval for Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to wreak havoc south of the border. His mission? To get the cartels warring against each other, in preparation for the full force of the US Military. Graver enlists the help of the sicario Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), and they set about kidnapping young Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner) - daughter of a notorious cartel leader, and, unbeknownst to them, the beginning of a job much harder, and more violent, than they expected.


Sicario was absolutely lightning in a bottle. It combined three incredible actors (Emily Blunt not returning for this sequel), cemented the place of an up and coming auteur director (Denis Villeneuve) and writer (Taylor Sheridan), and paired them with the best cinematographer in the world (Roger Deakins). It blew expectations out of the water, creating a phenomenon that swept it to three academy award nominations, and had many claiming it should have been nominated for a half dozen more (it was better reviewed than many of the best picture nominees that year, but likely suffered from its release date). With such an astoundingly serendipitous set of circumstances, this sequel could never be expected to live up to its predecessor, particularly when it loses one of its leads, its cinematographer and, crucially, its director.


And it doesn’t. Soldado never reaches the pinnacles of the original; never musters as much care as we had for Blunt’s character, never shocks us as much as that first scene with the bodies in the wall, and never brings the tension like that incredible border crossing sequence in Sicario. But that’s not to say it isn’t worthwhile.


While undoubtedly critics and audiences will compare it to the original and find it lacking, Soldado is actually a tremendous example of great adult dramatic fare. It’s violent, tense and intriguing, and has a convoluted, difficult plot that actually justifies its action. All too often, our cinema screens are bereft of these things in favour of easily understandable, CGI laden superhero films.


The film is also well paced, with two great performances from its male leads, solidifying the reasoning behind keeping them on board and expanding this to a trilogy. Young Moner, too, is incredibly talented and brings tension and pathos to key scenes that would have suffered without her presence.


Visually, it is also stunning. While it never replicates any of the astounding visual work of the original, there are some great scenic moments and visually striking elements - particularly with groups trying to cross the border. Director Stefano Sollima, too, brings his own touch to this piece, and while he is no Villeneuve, he does elicit a few nice new flourishes that will hopefully be present in the sequel.


Where the sequel falls down is probably in its writing. We’ve been blessed with three incredible movies written by Sheridan (Sicario, Wind River and Hell or High Water), and all focused on saying a lot without saying a lot. The dialogue was so exquisitely written - assuming the audience was always on its toes, hanging on every word, and smart enough to make inferences to fill gaps in conversation, rather than explicitly spelling out every little detail. With Soldado, almost as if he didn’t have enough time to write, Sheridan crams in a few more one liners, a few more explicit pieces of dialogue, and a few more lines that set up a franchise out of a writer, director, story and entire team that shouldn’t be one. It’s a shame, because Sheridan is the best dialogue writer in the world at the moment. To see Soldado is to see dialogue that is just good.


Maybe that’s the problem with Soldado? It’s good - great, even, by movie standards these days. But with those actors on the screen, with that writer behind it, and when compared to Sicario? It’s not a masterpiece; not with any amount of inference.


It might not be as good as Sicario, but it’s still a tense, adult drama that we want to see more of on screen.