Skip to main content

Dirty is exactly why you're here.

Sicario 2: Soldado
aka
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
(2018)

(SPOILERS) I wasn't among the multitude greeting the first Sicario with rapturous applause. It felt like a classic case of average material significantly lifted by the diligence of its director (and cinematographer and composer), but ultimately not all that. Any illusions that this gritty, violent, tale of cynicism and corruption – all generally signifiers of "realism" – in waging the War on Drugs had a degree of credibility well and truly went out the window when we learned that Benicio del Toro's character Alejandro Gillick wasn't just an unstoppable kickass ninja hitman; he was a grieving ex-lawyer turned unstoppable kickass ninja hitman. Sicario 2: Soldadograzes on further difficult-to-digest conceits, so in that respect is consistent, and – ironically – in some respects fares better than its predecessor through being more thoroughly genre-soaked and so avoiding the false doctrine of "revealing" how things really are.


There's been criticism that the picture’s mere existence feeds into the edifice (wall) of scaremongering regarding Mexico and illegal immigration. But equally, it would be an optimistic expectation that a movie focussing on the cartels would find the time to present a positive, balanced image of the country and its people. Added to which, Sicario 2 is expressly fuelled by the essential corruption of everything that is institutional USA, be it off-the-books activity sanctioned at the most senior level, incursions into foreign territory to enact illegal acts or hands-washing and loose-ends tying-off when operations don’t go quite as planned. Is it responsible to make something that may feed into the arguments of those pointing fingers? Probably not, and I'd be more willing to defend it against such a charge if the picture displayed an abiding intelligence or perspective amid the tried-and-tested pulp tropes. 


The trigger for returning Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is the Secretary of Defence's (Matthew Modine) desire for a persuasive response when cartel-smuggled suicide bombers lay waste a Kansas supermarket. The resultant suggestion from Matt Graver (Josh Brolin)? Start a war between cartels and so get them to wipe each other out. It’s a somewhat spirited-out-of-nowhere plotline, and one must assume it was a desperate attempt on the part of Sheridan to find a "What if?" that would lead to a politico giving carte blanche. Hence the later reveal that the suicide bombing is actually by American citizens. This might have been used as a blackly comic twist if it wasn't all-but lost in the melee, or even as a purposeful piece of misdirection à la WMD (something patently untrue used to justify an action), but since the operation is undercover that would only work as something specifically designed to manipulate Modine. There's a overriding air of jacked-up, Tom Clancy laziness about the device, but Sheridan isn't short on such shortcuts to plausibility.


The biggest of which being, in an age where even Hollywood is making movies about CIA drug running (Kill the Messenger, the recent Tom Cruiser Made in America), are we really supposed to buy that they'd go ahead with the instructions of the DoD and do something that might put a serious cramp in their ability to continue creaming off all those unofficial funding sources? Sheridan, in his bid for an authentic tone has omitted a key ingredient that would lend credibility to the cynicism of his anti-heroes.


As for those anti-heroes, he only makes matters worse for his title character by fleshing out Alejandro’s already ludicrous characterisation.  A man who didn't hesitate to gun down a drug lord's wife and sons in the previous movie now gets all sentimental over another drug lord's daughter? Why? Because she evidently reminds him of his own dearly-departed bairn, and for the purposes of this instance can make the distinction between a drug lord and his offspring. As a consequence, he goes against his stone-cold code and Graver's instruction. 


The biggest point in the character’s favour – and in Graver's – in the first movie was his completely amoral perspective (in terms of presenting him "legitimately"). Take that away, and you have just another surrogate father tale (Mercury RisingLoganLast Action Hero ad infinitum). Now to be fair, this plotline itself works reasonably well, but Sheridan is effectively telling us the guy we fully understood Emily Blunt wanting to kill in the original is alright, really. Does Sheridan actually think these guys are good guys? Despite everything they do? Is he someone destined to work closely with Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg in the not-so-distant future? Well, he has family in law enforcement, so I shouldn't wonder.


This humanising extends to Graver by osmosis. He wouldn't usually hesitate to kill kidnapped drug lord's nipper Isabela (Isabela Moner, previously sexualised by Michael Bay in the triumphant Transformers: The Last Knight), but out of respect towards his dear friend, he decides not to. We’re now so far into the realm of Hollywood cliché that earlier turnabouts by Modine and admonishments from Catherine Keener seem entirely believable. On the other hand, who was director Stefano Sollima trying to kid from the first, when he has Alejandro reveal his face to a cartel lawyer on a busy street in Mexico City before killing him? How long can that kind of flagrantly frivolous vigilante/hitman make a fist of things? Outside of comic books, where he usually wears a mask. 


There are other issues with the progression here; Isabela becomes largely passive (emotionally) once captured, a gauge of moral temperature rather than a character. Nevertheless, del Toro's such a good actor (and without a silly stammer here, even more so) that the bonding sequences are largely strong ones, particularly their encounter with a deaf peasant.


The picture's most laughable development comes after coyote – people smuggler – Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez) is required to execute Alejandro by boss Gallo (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, probably resigned to playing despicable Mexicans, with this and Goliath in quick succession). Alejandro goes down, apparently lifeless. But we can’t help but notice he's been shot in the lower face, possibly only through his cheeks. Just what are the chances of that? Well, as I noted in my review of the original, Alejandro is pretty much Batman, so quite high in all honesty. It's precisely the sort of death-defying development that would befall a lawyer turned kickass ninja hitman. Come on, is anyone taking seriously the idea these movies are actually about something? 


Sheridan even goes as far as setting up his would-be assassin as Son of Sicario or Sicario: The Next Generation (Blame it on Sicario?) for the inevitable sequel. In their favour, there's a sustained tension running through most of the Miguel scenes, a (relatively) innocent young guy dropped into people smuggling over his head, promised riches but likely to fall foul of border patrols and if not them a psychotic boss. Early scenes, such as his cousin trading insults with an acquaintance across the river/border as police car glides by, have an easy verisimilitude that's far more potent than the ominous perma-rumble of Hildur Guðnadóttir's swampy-industrial soundtrack.


Brolin's great in early scenes when unflinchingly called upon to kill a potential informant's family by drone strike, or meeting with Secretary of Defence and all but cracking open a beer as he enjoys the show and tells them how it is, but simply less interesting when it’s time to show he's also a compassionate, feeling kind of guy. Jeffery Donovan and Shea Whigham are wasted in a cameo and undercooked support respectively. 


Sheridan justified his sequel with the thought "I sure would love to see what happened if these guys didn’t have a chaperone", going on to comment that Sicario was about the militarisation of the police and the sequel's next logical step was to remove that policing aspect. In both respects, he rather fails to find anything to dig into, neutering the potential of the leads unleashed by locating their moral centres and never building anything – in its predecessor either – into a coherent conversation regarding the latter. And yet, despite these fundamental problems, Sollima has made Sicario 2: Soldado a frequently gripping movie. Just don't call it authentic.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

This is it. This is the moment of my death.

Fearless (1993)
Hollywood tends to make a hash of any exploration of existential or spiritual themes. The urge towards the simplistic, the treacly or the mawkishly uplifting, without appropriate filtering or insight, usually overpowers even the best intentions. Rarely, a movie comes along that makes good on its potential and then, more than likely, it gets completely ignored. Such a fate befell Fearless, Peter Weir’s plane crash survivor-angst film, despite roundly positive critical notices. For some reason audiences were willing to see a rubgy team turn cannibal in Alive, but this was a turn-off? Yet invariably anyone who has seen Fearless speaks of it in glowing terms, and rightly so.

Weir’s pictures are often thematically rich, more anchored by narrative than those of, say, Terrence Malick but similarly preoccupied with big ideas and their expression. He has a rare grasp of poetry, symbolism and the mythic. Weir also displays an acute grasp of the subjective mind-set, and possesses …

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.