The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO"

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Has there ever been a movie less likely to inspire a sequel than Sicario, much less one that opens in the middle of the generally escapist summer movie season? Who could have guessed that a major studio would slot a dark, unexpectedly-timely picture about people illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border right in between Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Ant-Man and the Wasp? And yet that's exactly what has happened. Sicario: Day of the Soldado deserves to get some notice, despite the unlikely release date. Although not as good as the original, the sequel is so interesting and unpredictable that it kind of works anyway.

Emily Blunt is nowhere to be found this time, but Josh Brolin is back as federal agent Matt Graver. The United States Secretary of Defense, James Riley (Matthew Modine), brings him in after it is determined that a group of terrorists responsible for a supermarket bombing went to Mexico first and were then smuggled across the border. They decide the best way to deal with the problem is to start a war between the major cartels that made it happen. To that end, Graver recruits his old pal, black operative Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). Part of their plan involves kidnapping Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a drug kingpin. From there, a number of shocking events take place that neither the men nor those of us in the audience foresee.

The appeal of Sicario: Day of the Soldado lies in its willingness to explore the gray areas of morality. Characters you think are the good guys do unconscionable things. Others, who you think of as having little to no moral compass, end up doing things that are kind and decent. These shifting allegiances and malleable ideals imply that there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to monitoring the border. Exploiting people or situations for political gain is as easy as it is common because “doing what needs to be done” is the name of the game. Given recent headlines, that idea is deeply uncomfortable, which only serves to give the movie an added jolt.

Another intriguing element of the story is the depiction of Isabela. When we first meet her, she's basically a spoiled brat. Her wealthy father has built her a sheltered life where every need is met, every desire tended to. Once “kidnapped,” she starts to see a whole different way of life that many of her fellow Mexicans exist within. She directly witnesses the results of her father's actions, to which she had previously been blind. The drama in this subplot is engrossing, and Isabela Moner gives an outstanding performance, showing the impact her character's eye-opening has.

Despite these very good qualities, Day of the Soldado is not quite as tightly-scripted as Sicario was. Taylor Sheridan, who penned both movies, allows the story to occasionally grow muddled, especially in an underdeveloped subplot about a Mexican-American teenager who wants to become a hitman. There are additionally some moments that seem just a little implausible, most notably what happens with Alejandro in the last ten minutes. Original director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins gave Sicario a high level of artistry to match the gritty plot, whereas sequel director Stefano Sollima essentially just makes a journeyman thriller.

Enough about the picture works to be worthwhile, though. Brolin and del Toro are both magnetic, so they hold the film together when it seems in danger of falling apart. Between the performances, the topical subject matter, and some gripping twists and turns, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is refreshingly serious summer entertainment.

( out of four)


Sicario: Day of the Soldado is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 2 minutes.


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