‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ explores impact of violence, corruption

James Preston Poole

Benicio del Toro finally has a franchise to call his own.

Unlikely as it may seem, the highly acclaimed 2015 thriller “Sicario” has spawned a sequel, focused this time around on del Toro’s ruthless hitman from the first film. Despite lacking some of the original’s key elements, such as director Denis Villeneuve and star Emily Blunt, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” manages to go even deeper into its world for another outstanding film.

After a series of suicide bombings rocks the United States, the CIA begins to suspect ISIS is smuggling operatives into the country through the Mexican cartels. Agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) enlists the help of hitman Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to start a war between the cartels to disrupt the perceived influx of bombers.

It’s hard to tell what “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is getting at in its opening moments. The film seems to crawl along, with a fair amount of intrigue about the cartels but far too many scenes set ingovernment offices and boardrooms. Brolin and del Toro are a treat to watch, giving depth to two characters who practically live in the moral grey area. They don’t, however, shake the feeling that the story is ill-timed, exploiting xenophobic fears of undocumented immigrants and people of the Islamic faith.

However, writer Taylor Sheridan is doing this on purpose, because it comes to light that Graver’s intel was wrong, leaving him tasked with erasing all proof of American involvement, including ordering Gillick to murder Isabella Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a cartel leader and a witness to their crimes. Gillick refuses, and now both he and Reyes are being hunted by Graves. This is where the film firmly finds it footing.

While there’s a lot of violence in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”, this is not an action movie. Instead, director Stefano Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolszki go for a pseudo-documentary style that’s meant to make viewers uncomfortable rather than titillate them. An opening supermarket bombing and a third-act desert standoff are downright difficult to watch.

Brutality permeates this film in visuals and narrative. Sheridan wisely splinters his narrative across his two leads, examining the corruption of the government through Graves and the effect that violence can have on a man through Gillick. By avoiding all the assassin cliches, Gillick represents a fragility that we don’t see in these sorts of movies, as well as a sense of consequence. He is the monster that the violence of the cartels has created, and Graves doesn’t seem to realize that his own violence could create another monster.

Although the impact of this world on the adults is compelling in and of itself, the impact of these conflicts on children is what will stay with most viewers. From the perspective of not only Isabela but also young aspiring hitman Miguel (newcomer Elijah Rodriguez), we see how psychologically affecting these intense conflicts can be.

What makes “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” great is that it refuses to give an answer to any of these questions. Instead, it asks the audience to ponder them, making a sequel that, while rough around the edges, is more than worthy of the “Sicario” name.

  • “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”
  • Runtime: 122 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Score: 4/5