Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Let's face it: many sequels are garbage. However, most of those garbage sequels are to films that were ok, at best, in the first place.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is probably the biggest drop in quality from original to sequel I've ever seen. It takes almost everything we enjoyed about the first film & destroys it. The film continues the stories of CIA Agent Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) & black operative Alejandro Gillick (played by Benicio del Toro). After a suicide bombing by Islamic terrorists kills 15 people in a Kansas City supermarket, the CIA adds Mexican drug cartels to the list of terrorist groups, as they are the ones who have transported the terrorists across the border. Graver, along with fellow CIA agents Steve Forsing (played by Jeffrey Donovan) & Cynthia Foards (played by Catherine Keener), along with Secretary of Defense James Riley (played by Matthew Modine), agree that the best plan of action is to pit the cartels against each other. Graver recruits Gillick for this, & starts with a false flag operation: kidnapping Isabela Reyes (played by Isabela Moner), the daughter of a major drug kingpin.

After Isabela is kidnapped, they head to Texas & stage a rescue with the DEA, & blame the kidnapping on one of the major drug cartels. However, on the way to Texas, they are ambushed by their Mexican police escort. In order to escape, they kill many of the policemen. During this, Isabela escapes, & Gillick chases after her.

In order to stop the tension between the U.S. & Mexico from getting worse, the CIA is ordered to abandon the mission & erase all proof of U.S. involvement, including executing Isabela. However, Gillick refuses to kill her. Graver must locate Gillick & Isabela, while Gillick must evade the CIA.

The cast is a mixed bag. Brolin & del Toro give good performances, & are the only good things in the film. Donovan, Keener & Modine are wasted. And Moner is absolutely terrible here.

Stefano Sollima's direction is awful. Sollima can't even perform 1% as good of a job as Denis Villeneuve did with Sicario. His execution of the story (or lack thereof) is mediocre at best, & a dumpster fire at worst, & is also incredibly bland. With Villeneuve directing the first film, it felt like an incredibly tense crime thriller that was only violent when it needed to be. With Sollima directing this, it's violent throughout, & just feels like violence for the sake of violence.

Taylor Sheridan's screenplay is a trainwreck. The plot is completely unnecessary. The dialogue is nowhere near where we all know it could be with Sheridan writing the script. And the characters are horrifically bad. Benicio del Toro's character is completely bastardized in this film. In Sicario, he was a fearsome black operative who was not afraid to massacre an entire family. Here, all of that is completely gone, as now he must save Isabela Moner's character "because she reminds him of his daughter," which is a tired trope if I ever saw one. And we haven't even mentioned the unabashed racism in this film. Almost every Mexican character in this film is incredibly stereotyped (violent, gang-affiliated, overly-tattooed, drug lords, etc.), every Muslim character is incredibly stereotyped (suicide bombers, extremists, etc), & the very few female characters are portrayed as cold & shallow. So with all these stereotypes, it's not hard to imagine that a white male wrote this. In Sheridan's eyes, only Mexicans can be drug lords, & only Muslims can be suicide-bombing extremist terrorists. I know that these stereotypes are not true, but it's an offensive portrayal to be demonstrating at this time in the world.

And Matthew Newman's editing is mediocre. It's a shame that the editing isn't good, as Newman's editing on the 2011 masterpiece Drive was terrific. Here, the pacing is terrible, as the film drags & drags. And the transitions & cuts feel incredibly bland.

This is a huge disappointment. It has some good performances, nothing else about this film works. But the most damning thing about this film is its unapologetic racism, playing on the white conservative/MAGA crowd's fears of people that don't look like them. I'm surprised Donald Trump & his cronies haven't seen this & praised it & started using it as propaganda for more travel bans for Muslim countries (& now Venezuela). By & far, this film is DEPLORABLE beyond belief.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Tuesday, July 3, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 122 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, & language.

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