'Sicario 2: Soldado' - Review - Chris At The Pictures

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

'Sicario 2: Soldado' - Review

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Picking up where 2015’s grim tale of murky morals on the Mexican border left off, this sequel finds itself squeezing every political pressure point within reach. Josh Brolin returns as CIA operative Matt Graver, tasked with initiating open warfare between the Mexican cartels to dissuade the smuggling of terrorists across the border. He again enlists the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), this time to kidnap a crime lord’s daughter (Isabela Moner) and thereby escalate the unrest: they're going to build a war and make Mexico pay for it.

With the triple-threat of helmsman Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and star Emily Blunt now absent, this descent into destruction loses all direction and grace, becoming - ironically - a rather blunt instrument. I didn’t think Sicario had a heart in the first place, but without Blunt’s Kate Macer as the moral anchor, Soldado becomes a one-way ticket to rock bottom for all parties involved. “Rules of engagement, sir?” asks a squadmate of Graver’s as they prepare for a stand-off. “Fuck it all”, comes the response.

Nowhere is the shrugging off of anything less dour than a Nietzschean tract more apparent than this moment, Graver having already dismissed POTUS as “cowardly” for not wanting to cause the destabilisation of a neighbouring country. Taylor Sheridan returns as screenwriter, and makes it his mission to push all the MAGA era buttons he can before someone pries his fingers from the typewriter. The film opens with Mexican immigrants swarming towards the border, ISIS suicide bombers concealed within their ranks. An entire subplot is dedicated to the training of a young Mexican trafficker (Elijah Rodriguez). Disturbingly realistic dramatisations of atrocities committed on American soil are delivered in clear detail while later images of Mexican children and parents boarding separate buses are casually, even callously dismissed before we move to more masculine brooding.

Sheridan still has problems writing women, too: Kate Macer may have been our way into Sicario, but her feminine traits were unsubtly coded as simply daring to have ideals in the first place, used only as a contrast to the more pragmatic Graver and the morally suspect Alejandro. In Soldado, the only women with substantial speaking roles are Catherine Keener as a hawk-like overseer, and Moner, who's (still magnetic) turn as political prisoner becomes little more than a device to draw out development for Alejandro and plot exposition from everyone else. Del Toro is a gripping presence, as one would expect, but Brolin - bereft of any challenger - simply stomps about with his chin forward.

Director Stefano Sollima (Suburra) is no stranger to underworld unrest, and his teaming up with d.o.p. Dariusz Wolski (Alien: Covenant) makes for some appropriately forbidding imagery. Everything’s either blistering desert sunlight or spotlit shadows, both colour-timed to whichever shade of grey fits the current philosophical mood. Soldado’s nihilism, however (largely displayed in explosive but uninvolving action scenes), becomes wearing all too soon. An epilogue that further hammers home this franchise’s Gospel of Matthew, “violence begets more violence” message offers no solution to its central conflict, nor to the real-life horrors it purports to represent.

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