Soldado heavy on action, short on conscience
Depending on your political leanings, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is either the film we need right now or a piece of inflammatory propaganda that only focuses on one side of a complex issue. Within the first ten minutes we witness a suicide bomber take his own life when stopped by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at the border, followed by a scene in which three like-minded terrorists blow themselves up in a crowded retail store in Kansas City. There’s nothing subtle about this sequel from Stefano Sollima, who seems intent on delivering this tale of modern warfare with maximum casualties and minimal narrative development.
Josh Brolin and his swagger return as agent Matt Garver, and he’s been given carte blanche to cripple the Mexican drug cartels by any means necessary. His solution is to create a war between the rival syndicates south of the border, and to facilitate that he and his crew kidnap Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the teenage daughter of the country’s most powerful kingpin, and make it look as though his competitor is behind it. In order to execute this plan, Garver enlists Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), the loose cannon from the previous film who’s still seeking justice for the death of his wife and daughter.
Of course, it would make for a very short movie if all of this went off like clockwork so it comes as no surprise that the operation goes sideways in a spectacular way, resulting in Garver and his crew being separated from Alejandro and Isabel, who are forced to navigate some mean terrain in their quest to make it back to the border.
At this point Taylor Sheridan’s script takes an interesting turn as the assassin and the young girl are forced to assume the roles of someone seeking asylum in the United States, and this twist effectively drives home the difficulties these people face as well as why they would take on such an arduous journey in order to find freedom. Of particular note are scenes in which Alejandro and Isabel stumble upon a rundown shack where a deaf man and his family live in poverty unlike any they’ve ever seen. These moments are rendered in a quiet, subtle manner that effectively drives home how great the divide is between the neighboring countries.
Soldado would have benefitted from more introspective scenes of this sort, but action is the name of the game in features such as this and sequences replete with carnage and mayhem are the film’s bread and butter. Though there’s overkill where these action scenes are concerned, at least Sollima knows how to stage and shoot them for clarity and impact.
Still, in relying on moments like this so often, the director shoots himself in the foot as there’s never a sense of urgency to the story or any forward momentum where the narrative is concerned. Sheridan has no real surprises up his sleeve and uses a technique employed in the first film by providing a subplot following a Texas high school student (Elijah Rodriguez) who winds up being a piece of collateral damage due to the border issue. Instead of moving, this thread comes off as an afterthought because it’s so infrequently developed.
Soldado is a nihilistic work, a film that offers little in the way of hope where the social issues it tackles are concerned. There are no winners here, only damaged adults, corrupted teens and fractured communities. While soft-selling the impact of the international drug trade and how our border troubles are exacerbated by it would come off as disingenuous, using this issue as an excuse to make an unnecessary sequel comes off as irresponsible and exploitive.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.