Thursday, July 19, 2018

Movie Review—Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Sicario: Day of the Soldado
A skull decorated with guns

by Peter J. O'Connell                                       

Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Released: June 2018. Runtime: 122 mins. In English and subtitled Spanish. MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, bloody images, and language. 

In 2015 Sicario attracted audiences and critical favor with its searing look at the war on drugs on the sunbaked U.S.-Mexico border. The film's violence and machismo were leavened by the appealing performance of Emily Blunt as a humanistic, young FBI agent. Now Sicario: Day of the Soldado, directed by Stefano Sollima and written by Taylor Sheridan, has shown up on screens, with the same setting and some of the same characters, but less leaven—bye-bye- Blunt! 

“Sicario” can be loosely translated as “hitman,” and “soldado” is “soldier.” One would think that these two categories should be separate and distinct inasmuch as one refers to a murderous and mercenary functionary for criminals and the other as a fighter sanctioned by the state and functioning under the laws of war. But not so on the border.

The line between these two categories is as permeable as the line between the countries. The two flow into each other--as English and Spanish do in the movie's title—in the same way that drug smugglers and human traffickers go back and forth over the Rio Grande and over (or under) various fences and barriers that may exist. And those pursuing them do the same. It is a world of war against law and order, and lawmen themselves are sometimes warriors outside the law. 

The film begins with Washington's realization that Mexican drug cartels are increasingly including Muslims, possibly terrorists, among those they are bringing into the U.S. The government decides that starting a war between major cartels might be a way to disrupt this dangerous situation. Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) of the CIA is chosen to conduct this operation. Graver recruits  “black ops” specialist Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), who worked for Colombian drug cartels, to join him in the project.

Muscular and weathered, Braver and Gillick seem macho to the max. Brolin looks like he borrowed his strong arms from Popeye the Sailor Man. And del Toro's face is as weathered as several miles of bad road in Mexico. The two start the war between cartels by a spectacular murder of a high-profile lawyer for the Matamoros cartel in the heart of Mexico City. They follow this up with the kidnapping of Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), the arrogant, privileged, teenage daughter of the kingpin of a rival cartel.

Graver, Gillick, and their team take Isabela to Texas and stage a “rescue” of her, supposedly from the rival cartel. They then plan to take her back into Mexico and leave her in the territory of that cartel. However, things go dramatically wrong, and the Americans end up creating an incident that leads to a crisis between the United States and Mexico. To resolve this crisis, Gillick and Isabela must both become at risk—from Graver. 

A number of twists and turns follow, with some ironic aspects. For example, Gillick was depicted in the 2015 film as the father of a daughter murdered by a cartel. And in the current film, Isabela, a teenage Mexican girl, is central to one cartel while Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a teenage Mexican-American boy, has an on-again/off-again relationship with another cartel and ends up becoming a sicario for an unexpected entity. 

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a gripping film, bleak and brutal for the most part, with only a few humanistic moments toward the end. The arid land where it is set is a powerful objective correlative for the film's vision of the world. Brolin and del Toro carry off their roles with the expected professionalism, and Isabela Moner's performance is superb—a star is born! Hilda Gudnadottir's score adds much to the film.   


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