FILM REVIEW – SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO. With Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine. Written by Taylor Sheridan. Directed by Stefano Sollima. Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language. 122 minutes.
SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, the sequel to 2015’s “Sicario,” is the perfect film for the Trump era. In its opening minutes, it stokes fears about Mexicans illegally crossing the border and Muslim suicide bombers. Then, to make sure all bases are covered, we watch Americans kill and torture Somali pirates in a subplot that quickly vanishes.
Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought in by the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) and an aide (Catherine Keener) to do something to disrupt this invented connection between Mexican drug cartels and Islamic terrorism. His solution is to foment a war among the cartels by kidnapping Isabel (Isabela Moner), the daughter of the biggest kingpin, and making it look like a rival gang did it. He brings in a bunch of mercenaries, including Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a lawyer whose family Isabel’s father had murdered in the first film.
Italian director Stefano Sollima, making his American feature debut, stages exciting and violent action scenes accompanied by an eerie score by Hildur Guðnadóttir that is more suitable for a horror movie. It’s odious in a way that it feeds into the fear and hate being invoked by our current political leaders. There’s even a subplot about Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a teenage American citizen, who is recruited to work for a Mexican crime boss bringing people illegally into the country. See? We can’t even trust the children.
And then something happens in the second half of the film: it gets incoherent. The motivations of characters change for no reason other than the plot requires it, and plot twist upon plot strains our credulity. Without giving anything away, there are several points when viewers paying attention to the plot and not just getting off on the violence will find themselves looking on in disbelief, including the last scene of the movie, which makes no sense at all.
Brolin, who had memorable turns this year in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Deadpool 2,” plays a much narrower range here. He doesn’t embarrass himself, but his ruthless character is straitjacketed by the screenplay. Del Toro fares slightly better, if only because he gets to show more emotion but he, too, is ultimately taken down by the script. Young actors Moner and Rodriguez will hopefully get other opportunities to show their talents. Poor Moner goes from tough-kid-who-knows-her-father-can-deal-with-anyone-who-gets-in-her-way, to hysterical little girl, to suddenly bonding with a man who –inexplicably – tells her he’s after her father. Even Meryl Streep would have a tough time making that believable.
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is no hack, as his scripts for “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River” demonstrated. On the other hand, he’s also responsible for the first “Sicario,” which was similarly a mess. Perhaps that’s the answer. “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is not only something for audiences to avoid, this is a series that everyone else involved with should walk away from as well.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.