Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review: "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" is a unexpected grimy crime thriller

Sicario: Day of the Soldado Review

One of the best films of 2015 was a gritty look at the war on drugs, and how that drove a particular FBI agent out of her mind. That movie was called "Sicario" and I've enjoyed the film ever since I saw it for the first time. I figured that story was a one-time thing. The idea of a sequel never crossed my mind. In the climate of filmmaking we are living in today, was it truly possible to expect a sequel for a movie that wasn't based on anything? That wasn't heavily influenced by nostalgia? I didn't think so, and I left it at that. I never expected in 2018 to see a sequel to the film. Nor did I expect that it would as entertaining as it was.

The original film starred Josh Brolin, Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. For this second film, Emily Blunt is out. The film focuses on Brolin's Matt Garver, a CIA agent who specializes on the war on drugs. The film also mainly focuses on Benicio del Toro's Alejandro Gillick, who has worked with Garver on many cases. As the film opens, we learn that a terrorist attack occurs in Kansas City and American intelligence deduces that Mexican Drug cartels have been smuggling Muslim terrorists into our country for a while. The American government gives Garver the go ahead to head down to Mexico to learn what he can, he recuits Gillick to assist him, as well Steve Forsing, played by Jeffery Donovan who was also in the first film. Through the use of several aggressive false flag operations, they plan to start a war between two feuding drug cartels.

Part of their plan is to kidnap Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner) who is the daughter of one of the cartel leaders, then stage it as if the rival cartel did it. Of course, as these movies usually go, the kidnapping eventually goes less than well. Garver gets pressured by the government to remove all traces of their involvement, which means murdering Reyes. Garver tries to get Gillick to do it, but he can't. This leads Gillick to eventually become Garver's enemy.

If you think the rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game between Garver and Gillick, forget it. "Sicario" was originally noted because it felt gritty and grounded. That same style passes onto this sequel. The movie also does a magnificent job of keeping the audience on their toes. You may think you have something figured out, just based on the crime movies you've seen. I will recommend that you forget everything you know, though. This movie isn't interested in treading water, and it is vastly richer as an experience because of it.

At this point, both Brolin and Del Toro have made careers playing hardened men. So much so that it may seem like a retread for both men. But I truly disagree. The writing feels so updated in this movie, so smart, so unique that the characters feel original. This could have been a very gimmicky movie as far as character development is concerned. It could have been lots of cornball tough guy dialogue. It have been plenty of stylized poses and several snarky looks. But the film is always more than that, it chooses character every time. The big discovery here is Isabela Moner, who is given more to do than just be a damsel in distress. She is given real heart and soul here, and Moner is smart and capable enough to run with it. So when her character is in danger, despite her background, its amazing how much all of it matters.

"Sicario" originally stuck out not only because of its story but how it tells it. It seems that the War on Drugs lingers on, without much of an ending in sight. As well as not much of a list of accomplishments in the war. I do truly wonder what is happening in the War on Drugs and just how successful we've been. Yet, how do you measure success? The first film dealt with the harsh reality that the only way to win the war is to become just as vicious as the cartels themselves. This second film seems to suggest that it all the collateral damage in this war doesn't really matter. It's a bleak, stark world and each new film plunges you into the filth of the War on Drugs.

I'll be interested to see how often we get to visit these characters. I will give this to the team behind these movies, they've done the unthinkable. Here is a series of movies being driven by character and performance. This is not a series based on a previous series, it isn't driven by nostalgia. That counts in this day and age, and it certainly means something. I hope we get many more visits with these sicarios, especially if they are going to be this good.

FINAL GRADE: A

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