Sicario: Day of the Soldado

SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, like its predecessor SICARIO, is a bleak, uncomfortable peek into a hellish world of violence depicted near our southern border. Cartels go about their business with savage brutality. U.S. agencies blur and push and blatantly leap across every legal or moral line they ever heard of. The Americans hire a Mexican lawyer turned killer to do the dirty stuff because he wants revenge on those who murdered his family. But they also seem pretty okay with doing the dirty stuff themselves.

Criminals, cops and soldiers all ride on the backs of humvees or pickup trucks or in helicopters, some of them caravanning across the border with impunity, wrapped in armor, strapped with high capacity rifles, hiding behind their sunglasses and gritting their teeth until something pops off and then they pound hundreds of rounds through glass, metal and meat, leaving the wreckage of vehicles and their inhabitants to bake under the hot sun on the pavement or in the dirt.

Caught in the middle of this war are innocent Mexicans. They are the migrants seeking a better life, treated as cargo by the coyotes, abandoned like excess baggage if they fall out of a boat. Or the children of the narcos. Or the kids in the area who get pushed into working for them. They don’t have the luxury of doing it as a side gig like the white lady who gets paid to pick one of them up at the border.

Most of these people we don’t hear much from in this movie. This is about the bad guys.

DAY OF THE SOLDADO pushes buttons, and sometimes they are the buttons of crazy people. I gotta admit there were times when I wondered if I should feel guilty for even watching this movie. In the opening you can’t help but think “What the hell is this thinking-man’s INVASION U.S.A. bullshit?” because it takes two of the greatest obsessions of the MAGA cult – Islamic terrorists and The Mexicans/The Illegals – and improbably combines them into one Super-Bugaboo. Border Patrol stops some migrants coming across the border and there is an Islamic suicide bomber among them. Then we watch with gruesome matter-of-factness the horrific scene of a bombing in an American store. A mother and child who survive the first bomb beg a second bomber not to detonate as a man missing his legs crawls along the floor in the background. Thank god Trump would never watch a movie with Spanish words in the title, and that if he did he would just fast forward to the action scenes, because otherwise he’d be jacking off to the opening of this movie as we speak. Probly calling in to Fox and Friends while doing it.

I was halfway convinced I was gonna have to forget about Taylor Sheridan and his brand of broody slow burn contemporary western machismo (he’s the guy who wrote these SICARIOs, plus HELL OR HIGH WATER and WIND RIVER, which he also directed). There are these war movies and cop movies that deal with the scary grey area of men with guns and uniforms who get thrown into these endless conflicts that maybe they’re not supposed to win anyway. They are people with amazing skills and terrifying jobs, who have seen horrors we don’t want to ever see, who have learned to accept nightmares as daily life, who have been burned out and ground down and compromised their ideals and now they want to tell us we’re naive to strive for anything better. For example Josh Brolin (THRASHIN’)’s character Matt Graver believes he’s working for the greater good and enjoys flouting the law, working with a hitman in part 1, basically invading Mexico in this one, kidnapping, covering up the truth. He can be as bad as he wants because he figures he’s the good guy.

Usually movies about these types of characters are showing that they’re wrong but interesting, or at least that it’s complicated, but when identifying with them there’s always a danger of the audience or the movie succumbing to an amoral view of the world, the way of the gun. The attitude that these are our boys in uniform and the heroism and the courage you guys, how dare you question what we made them do what about 9-11.

Is that what this is? DAY OF THE SOLDADO leaves you hanging for quite some time as you navigate through a fog of anti-heroism without the moral flashlight of Emily Blunt’s character (this was originally planned as a spinoff about the sicario, not a straight up sequel). At the same time it leaves you unsure if this is even going anywhere. It swirls around the story of Graver running a military black ops mission in Mexico, and a teenager named Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez, THE BOOK OF LIFE) who’s being groomed to be a coyote for a cartel, and the vengeful sicario Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro, BIG TOP PEE-WEE) going after some motherfuckers, before Graver recruits him for their op.

The coyotes who they think got the suicide bombers across work for Reyes, the same guy who had Alejandro’s family killed. They want to take him out by snatching his daughter Isabela (Isabela Moner, TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT) to trick them into starting a war with the other cartels. But, you know, a military incursion into a neighbor country to fake out a gang is, like, kind of an iffy plan, and things get very messy, by which I mean there is blood and brains and stuff everywhere, and Isabela alone in the desert, and Alejandro trying to find her to reunite with the Americans.

It’s like a bunch of little pieces are thrown out there and it’s interesting for a while and then it starts to seem like maybe it’s just a bunch of pieces thrown out there and what is the point of all this and then just enough pieces show up in the middle to connect the outside ones to the inside and you see the big picture and now all the sudden you’re in its grip. The random way the paths of Alejandro the sicario and Miguel the soldado cross, and the ticking time bomb it creates, brings it all together, and from that point on all bets are off. And by that point it’s obvious that I never should’ve questioned Sheridan.

As far as the Chuck Norris shit, things turn out to be more complicated than they seemed. The Ultra-Boogie-Man that justified this mission turns out to be based on an incorrect assumption (SPOILER: the successful bombers were American citizens from New Jersey, border crossings had nothing to do with it). The sometimes-you-need-to-get-your-hands-dirty mission caused a deadly international incident and the government’s way of cleaning it up is indefensible. You know it if you saw the trailer: Graver is supposed to kill all witnesses, meaning Alejandro and Isabel. So once again our vicious killer becomes the relative good guy. Though Isabel is the daughter of his worst enemy he makes the pledge to himself to get her over the border to safety. They become the hunted, disguised as migrants, hiding right under the noses of savages who will kill them before the Americans do if they figure out who they are.

The great Denis Villaneuve directed SICARIO, but this one is by the Italian director Stefano Sollima (ACAB – ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS). The first one had brilliant, Oscar nominated cinematography by Roger Deakins, here it’s Dariusz Wolski, who’s no slouch either (he did THE CROW, DARK CITY, PROMETHEUS, and more), though he doesn’t make as much of an impression. In place of the late Jóhann Jóhannson as composer we have his fellow Icelander and collaborator on MARY MAGDALENE, the cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir. Jóhannson’s incredibly ominous theme “The Beast” returns at the end, so I hereby nominate it for song of the summer.

Unsurprisingly del Toro is fucking great in this, a smoldering squinty-eyed badass performance. He gets to be the expert killer, the scary protector, he speaks English and Spanish and sign language. I like the realistic detail that he speaks in only partially audible Spanish when he signs, not really out loud like people often do in movies (we have subtitles for that).

By the way I have noted in recent years that Leonardo Dicaprio seemed to be physically transforming into Benicio. Here there’s a stretch where del Toro gets to do a Dicaprio in THE REVENANT – completely fucked up and covered in dried blood and dirt stumbling on a long journey with obvious bodily limitations. An A+ physical performance.

The whole cast is good but I also want to single out Rodriguez for a really impressive low-dialogue performance as a kid maybe 14 or 15 years old, still growing into an adult body and pushed into this criminal life with obvious fear and reservations. He wants to impress these guys but only for his own safety and he loathes it and he feels like he needs to swallow it down and do what they tell him and also he might throw up and we see all of this on his face.

I felt like most of the young people who showed up for the 7pm Thursday first showing were practically asleep, but there is one part that made like three of them blurt out “What the fuck?” I don’t know if they meant it in a good way, but I thought it was a good part. It gets pretty ferocious at the end. I liked it.


There’s something else you should read for perspective:

What Latino Film Critics Are Saying About ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’

They compile reviews by several critics; all find the movie reprehensible. It seems to me like they’re not always being fair to the intentions of the movie, but they’re absolutely right that it’s the worst time in our country for a movie about characters like this. I tend to like movies where people do bad things and the movie doesn’t find it necessary to judge them for you. That’s your job. But I can’t disagree with Claudia Puig’s last paragraph:

“Perhaps if we saw more films with Latinx characters, one movie reeking of amoral machismo – even one that seems to revel in its viciousness – wouldn’t be so disturbing. But when Latinx actors play only 2.7% of roles in top films, a major Hollywood release like Sicario: Day of the Soldado serves only to amplify stereotypes, encourage fear-mongering and intensify racial tension.”

This entry was posted on Monday, July 2nd, 2018 at 11:35 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”

  1. Is the whole beginning understanding undone? I interpreted the plot as changing the Kansas City part bbut not necessarily the one on the border, who allegedly came by way of ship.

    I liked the first SICARIO far more, but still enjoyed this one. Though surely it was helped by me having watched the abortion that was JURASSIC WORLD FALLEN KINGDOM the evening before.

    I’d probably agree more with the handwringers on this, if the movie seemed to endorse the behavior it depicts, but i think it mostly avoided that issue (though Graver has some lines that got laughs in my theater.) To an extent, the convo around this movie reminds me of the WOLF OF WALL STREET controversy—which is strange because this movie’s style is less empathetic and more detached—I just don’t know what people would watch this movie and think it’s positively judging these characters and their conduct. People of Hispanic heritage may have a different perspective on this movie than me and I’d like to hear more of it in detail because what I’ve read so far isn’t terribly persuasive—if anything some of the us govt officials, who are all white, come off the most as villains because they’re portrayed as fickle, hasty to rush to judgment, and treacherous.

  2. Yeah, I take this one as more of a straight action-western than the first, and on that level it almost worked for me. There were definitely times where I’d silently ask, “Ok, but what are you really trying to say with that?” But I have this problem with the politics in a lot of action movies.

  3. Rodriguez felt like the most confusing and tossed in element of the movie to me. Is there a genre reason for his involvement or was he just in there to “round” out the movie’s world, contribute to some suspense set pieces, and set up a sequel?

  4. I could not get over the fact that Alejandro had NO compunction about shooting some innocent children in front of their father (just to torture him) but in this movie he has a problem with killing the bitchy teenage daughter of another narcotraficante. My wife made the argument that like most people, Alejandro may have reevaluated his life and decided to change. I made the argument that Alejandro can’t even be considered a human anymore and has probably accepted the fact that he’s a lost soul.

    What do you guys think?

  5. BrianB – You’re right, the new information doesn’t change the scene at the beginning with the bomber, but their mission was predicated on the idea that a terrorist attack had happened on American soil due to this cartel getting multiple suicide bombers across, and that part turned out to not be true. And yes, this may still be too much of a Trumpian wet dream.

    I think the situation is a little different from the WOLF OF WALL STREET just because of the movie being released right in the middle of a national crisis where the president is using racist stereotypes of Mexican migrants as violent gang members to justify kidnapping thousands of children to please his base and the private prison industry and what not. I can’t blame people for being hard on it in these circumstances.

  6. That’s fair. I suppose another difference it’s tone is more hyper-realism than farce. On the other hand, how much worse is this movie being released now vs the original Sicario, and if it was released now?

    I’m not passionate enough about this movie to go to the mat for it, but if somebody was to shit on the original for the same reasons, which I think somewhat could be done despite how it’s moral POV is clearer and more defensible, I’d have it out hard.

    I wasn’t alive for the release of DEATH WISH 2. But I’m pretty sure if I was, I still would’ve enjoyed it. Even though there was some very serious social crises going on back then. Now maybe a lot of that is just because that movie is batshit and cheesy in tone. But I don’t think anybody could deny that movie is way more of a far right and racist fever dream than this movie is.

    @binksyguy: I thought it was a stretch but bought it as believable enough. This movie is set years after the first one, so I can see how the vengeance fueling Alejandro might have faded a bit, and he’s either changed or more open to change. Plus, he wasn’t immediately inserted into a situation where he could exploit the child as a way to make the cartel chief suffer. Additionally, Del Toro does a good job of conveying what felt kind of underwritten of how his character slowly develops more affection towards her as the movie progresses.

  7. Think I’m about on the page as everyone else with this. I was skeptical going in, as, tbh, making Sicario 2 without Blunt – especially given how Alejandro left her – felt to me like if First Blood’s sequel had been about the cop who was mean to Rambo instead of Rambo. AKA an oddly awesome idea but also one no one actually wants.

    In the event, for the full first hour I really thought they’d fucked it. It looked like Sicaro, it even sounded like Sicario – but the level of artistry DV brought to the table just wasn’t matched – the weird, unsettling and sometimes arty touches of the first entry had, by and large, just been shaved off. Then the convoy happens, it all starts to click, and I’m gripped for the rest of the movie. It is a much more, like, tonally conventional movie, but I think those conventions work when you have people of Brolin and del Toro’s calibre selling them.

    It is odd in way, rehabilitating Alejandro by pairing him with a moody teenage girl is a pretty played out trick, but I still ended up going for it. I also thought that they were setting up a Brolin/del Toro showdown at the end of the movie. I was left kind of blueballed cos they didn’t bother in the end, but it’ll be interesting to see where they take that in Part 3.

    Speaking of part 3 actually, Sicario didn’t really lend itself to a direct sequel, so it did feel like this movie ended up being more about setting the chess board up for part 3 than about telling a satisfying story on its own. The ending itself reminded me of Empire Strikes Back, not at all what I was expecting. I’m sounding quite mixed on it, and I am mixed I guess, but I’d still give this, like, a strong four out of five.

    The film does feel bolted together in places, and you can tell it was reworked somewhere along the line. The slightly odd loose thread with the guy blowing himself up at the border being a red herring (speaking of, that moment really is another pretty cheap trick – and I also reckon the film’d be a good 10 points higher on RT had they thought of a different opening gambit) is a holdover from an earlier draft, which took it in a different direction.

    FWIW sounds like TS and SS didn’t agree on the on the direction of the third act, and a lot of changes were made. I’ve not gone thru the whole script, but a couple different drafts are out there. I also suspect the movie doesn’t its intended big climactic del Toro beat down cos they couldn’t budget for it and figured they could hold it off til next time.

    I’ll copy paste a summary of some of the changes from reddit user JaxtellerMC:

    “In that draft of Soldado, (and that one guy on this thread saying that Sollima said at the Q&A that he changed the second half indicates that), Matt goes in to get Alejandro & Isabela back. Alejandro is taken by the police instead of Hector. A new character Gallo recognizes him “I know who you are…. Medellin?”, takes him, he gets shot the same way.
    Matt drops down with his team, whack the guys, there’s a tense stand-off where Gallo uses Isabel as a human shield in a car, she ends up having to kill him herself. More development of her and Matt. We follow them back home.
    Cynthia reprimands Matt, he tells her basically that there are thousands of people who can do her job, and probably a handful like him, and he’s not going anywhere. Isabela is more developed like I said, they get her into protective custody.
    Meanwhile, Miguel actually finds Alejandro and helps him (Im guessing that changed either in the editing or in later drafts). The rest is the same UNTIL a completely different ending where Matt still tracks him on GPS and Alejandro drives to Reyes’ compound, gets inside, other drug lords are there, terrified, Alejandro confronts Reyes, then lobs a grenade at the guys, takes refuge behind a flipped table. BOOm, finishes the guys off with his gun.
    Then the same final scene from the film where he finds Miguel except it takes place outside at night.”

  8. I love the first Sicario but this one just makes me feel icky and I can’t get on board with it. I don’t think it has much to say about the border migration crisis at all, which is kind of unforgivable given the way it starts. There were some tense moments (though nothing to rival the dinner scene at the end of the first film) and great performances but…. nah. I can’t abide.

  9. This movie felt oddly small to me. Did anyone else feel the same way?

    As for the linked article: They authors make good points, but I hardly think they represent the overall consensus. it’s a self-selecting group Doing commentary pieces, not reviews. Had the author selected quotes from published reviews by latinx critics, it might be more useful. As it stands, the whole comes off as slightly axe grinding.

  10. I know what you mean by ‘small’ Tawdry, this feels very much like one part of a two-part story, one that mostly stands apart from Sicaro (makes me wish they’d stuck with ‘Soldado’). The absence of a big final action set piece – which isn’t mandated for all movies to have but is sort of what you’d expect given how the movie was marketed – does make it a bit unusual, and thats why I got ESB vibes from the ending.

    Looks like it made enough money already to mean that a part 3 is very likely, I hope they get enough money and give Sheridan the freedom to put a bow on it and come up with something great. The director of this one isn’t coming back so it’ll be interesting to see who they give it to.

    There were rumblings they wanted Denis back but I feel like a series budgeted around the 30-50mil mark isn’t gonna have the money to convince him to come back given his move into full-on art-house blockbuster territory. Maybe he’ll come back if Dune collapses at short notice. It’d be a risk for him tho creatively, especially as Sicaro 3 would probably end up due around the beginning or end of Trump’s re-election campaign.

    I think people will be even more sensitive on the representation politics front when Trump really cranks up the racism as a get-out-the-vote operation, with the full weight of the White House behind him (I saw the official WH twitter attacking Maxine Waters the other day, prob an early sign of how dirty the next election will be) and I can only imagine how despairing people will feel if/when Trump gets re-elected. And given I think he’ll use everything at his disposal to rig it, so he’s probably the favourite, I’m as sorry as you are. So basically, unless they really rush it out or wait a decade Sicaro 3 is *probably* gonna feel like a lead balloon when it drops in terms of, like, reading the non-Nazis in the room. Sheridan is a smart guy, maybe he’ll write his way out of it.

    That is an odd thing actually – in storytelling terms the place they left the movie – and it is a good action movie – demands a sequel. But real life really doesn’t.

    The flak the movie is getting is interesting – there are plenty movies a lot more racist that come out and get a pass without comment – but for some reason the Sicaro series just seems smarter, and like it should hold itself to a higher standard. The first act of this movie genuinely made me think of Funny Games – in terms of how rare it is to see movies like this with genuinely amoral protagonists. The most sympathetic guy in this shot a couple kids in the head not long ago (tho I don’t see his bonding with the girl in this as a character inconsistency, cos I’m assuming he’d have had a harder time killing those boys had be gone on a road trip with them). I think the difference is that the movie doesn’t go through the motions of pretending that their crusade is righteous, and it puts the bad guys on a level pegging with the heroes (quote-unquote), so we aren’t blinded to their humanity in the way we are in your standard lets-mow-down-the-canon-fodder action-war flick. Wow this comment ended up longer than I expected.

    On the Sheridan front, I’ve liked his movies so far, and I was really beyond impressed with Wind River, but I watched the 90 minute first episode of Yellowstone and thought it was, like, complete garbage. Wonder if there’s a story there, or if he just bit off more than he can chew. There’s a bit where some real estate guy philosophies to his pal about cities being ‘where civilisations go to die’ and I thought I had died, and had gone right to TV hell. Good lord.

  11. Steven – I haven’t seen Yellowstone yet (or Soldado), but that line about cities reminds me of Jeremy Renner’s speech at the end Wind River, which I also thought was a little dumb. (In retrospect, Wind River is my least favorite of Sheridan’s that I’ve seen, although I still find a lot to like).

    I’ve mentioned this before, but it does bug me when movies play up country peoples as somehow more true, authentic, moral, and upstanding that those dern city folk. It’s such a dumb and easy cliche. I grew up around farms but currently live in Boston. This probably won’t be shocking, but both have their positive and negative aspects.

    Just today I was thinking about the cliche of rural people being gritty and brave, unlike us helpless city slickers. And then I was thinking about the fact that I live in a city that was attacked by terrorists, and yet when Trump pulled that Muslim ban bullshit, the vast majority of people here rejected it as idiocy. And yet people out in the heartland are ready to piss themselves the moment Trump says the word MS-13. Let’s be honest, who’s braver, people who live in places that are more likely to be attacked by terrorists and still reject this fearmongering bullshit, or people who will never face that threat and still buy into this obviously bogus rhetoric?

    All right, rant over.

  12. Rbatty024, you can’t see it but I am giving you a standing ovation for that rant. I also grew up in a tiny country town in red America and now live in a godless liberal metropolis (Chicago). You’re goddamnit right on—people will cling to whatever thin veneer they need to justify their racist bullshit. There are good and bad people everywhere. People who interact with diverse communities know they are not all or even mostly terrorists or welfare queens or whatever other stupid stereotypes. That’s why the idea of terrorists crossing Mexican border rubbed me so wrong in this movie. I know there’s dialogue later casting it in a different light but the image is more powerful and potentially harmful then some tossed off line delivered by an otherwise wasted Catherine Keener.

  13. Did anyone catch the dumb writing gimmick I did in this review? I’m trying to become the GZA of film criticism.

  14. Does it count as a gimmick if we didn’t notice it?

  15. I enjoyed this while it was going on, but a few days later I am finding it a bit of a shoulder shrug.

    Certainly an above average film, but nothing I can see myself buckling in and watching again. I watched the fist Sicario twice since I saw this, and will always get back to it. I even bought it on digital to keep my lazy ass from having to get up and pop the bluray in.

    Vern, I am so mad we don’t have a Jurassic World review yet. I saw it opening night and had so much white hot hatred for it, I was ready to unload. Now, I have more or less forgotten it.

    Getting old sucks, I forget 60% of the movies I see within days.

  16. Wait, what was the gimmick? I even went back and re-read it.

  17. I shouldn’t be surprised at this point, but it was a little uncanny to see you guys (Vern included) expressing so many of the same thoughts I had about this one – from the “Trumpian wet dream” vibes it gave off, to the lack of Villeneuve being readily apparent. Glad I saw it and enjoyed it for what it was, but I don’t see myself returning to it any time soon (unlike Sicario the first, which just gets better every time I see it). Also, totally bummed to find out that Jóhann Jóhannson is no longer with us – I was really looking forward to many more Villeneuve/Jóhannson joints, as together they created a distinct atmosphere of discomfort and dread that few other movies have achieved.

  18. Okay, I admit defeat. For some reason I decided to work the titles of several other Benicio del Toro movies into sentences throughout the review. I thought using the phrase “excess baggage” would be the giveaway, but I guess I did too good of a job making it sound natural. I should’ve compared a blood splatter to a Basquiat painting or something.

  19. Vern, you should have started with a “Wolfman”, that would have made it easier.

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