Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018) Review

Here’s the thing about Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario: it’s the kind of one-off movie that doesn’t need a sequel. After all, the first movie didn’t exactly set the box office on fire and yet, here we are.

In this sequel, CIA operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) reunites with Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) on a black-ops mission to kidnap the Mexican drug kingpin’s daughter, Isabela (Isabela Moner) and made it looks like a work from his rival cartel — all for the sake to provoke a war amongst each other.

I was sceptical at first, given the fact it was no longer Villeneuve calling the shots. Instead, Stefano Sollima was put in charge of the director’s seat, the acclaimed Italian director best known in his native country for helming TV crime series like Romanzo Criminale and Gomorrah. Although he was relatively unknown in Hollywood, Sollima is no placeholder. He could have gone the easy way by emulating the style and tone of Villeneuve’s masterful 2015 original. Sure, you still see shades of Villeneuve’s filmmaking style in this sequel every now and then. But he is careful enough not to turn the sequel into a mere carbon copy of the original.

In fact, I’m glad he shows tons of confidence establishing his own style in this sequel. Although the visual aesthetics aren’t as refined as the first movie, Sollima displays enough grit and dread that complements well with Dariusz Wolski’s atmospheric cinematography and Hildur Gudnadottir’s foreboding, yet edgy score. The latter two actually did a good job replacing original cinematographer Roger Deakins and the late talented composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who was sadly died at the age of 48 earlier this year.

The sequel even successfully features a memorable set-piece involving an extended convoy ride on the dirt road, which combines the gradual power of build-up suspense and sparse but tense action sequence. Even though Villeneuve did it better in the first movie’s expertly-staged US-Mexico border scene, Sollima still deserves a praise for showing enough flair in his staging skill.

Despite the absence of Emily Blunt’s character this time around, both Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro did a great job reprising their roles as Matt Graver and Alejandro respectively.

While Brolin’s no-nonsense portrayal hits the right spot, it was Del Toro — again — steals the show like the original. Apart from displaying the same quiet intensity that made him such a memorable character, there is more about Del Toro’s Alejandro after all. Beneath his soulful eyes and steely exterior lies a compassionate individual, who shows his softer side, particularly during an affecting moment when he and Isabela seek refuge from a deaf family man in the Mexican desert. Speaking of Isabela, Isabela Moner delivers a solid support as the kidnapped drug kingpin’s daughter — a role that finally showcased her acting range far better than the dismal Transformers: The Last Knight last year.

Like the first movie, Taylor Sheridan is again in charge of the screenplay. He is also one of the main reasons that made the sequel work. Besides displaying the same moral ambiguity previously seen in the original, Sheridan continues his thematic fascination on exploring the dark side of law enforcement from both sides of the border (US and Mexico) in a different angle.

The sequel tends to lag in the middle but such shortcoming is forgivable. Sicario: Day of the Soldado turns out to be a rare sequel that initially feels like an unnecessary follow-up, but somehow justified its existence after all.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado may seem like an unnecessary follow-up to the 2015 original, but the sequel manages to justify its existence with Taylor Sheridan’s solid thematic script and an equally well-directed tense crime drama.

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