Dir: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Elijah Rodriguez
Sicario came out of nowhere and announced two blistering new talents. Denis Villeneuve, the director who went on to make Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and Taylor Sheridan, the actor turned screen writer who has since penned Hell or High Water, and Wind River. Villeneuve doesn’t return for this sequel, too busy with a new version of Dune, but Sheridan is once again behind the script. Also returning are stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Sicario wasn’t a film that I thought required a sequel, but nonetheless I was excited to see where Sheridan would take us next, and to spend some more time with these morally complex characters.
Sicario 2: Soldado starts with a terrorist attack. Perpetrated on US soil by 4 extremists. When it turns out that the first attacker to be identified had made his way to the US via the Mexico border, smuggled in by the drug cartel, the US government classifies the cartels as a terrorist organisation, changing the rules of engagement. The US bring in Josh Brolin, a black ops operative. His job is to start a war between the cartels, getting them to destroy each other, using the same techniques he used in Iraq. To do this he will need his Mexican Sicario, or hitman, played by Benicio Del Toro.
The film sets out its stall early on. Opening with a shot of helicopters patrolling the border in complete darkness, with only flashes of light revealing what’s happening on the ground. It works as a metaphor for how the film uses truth, and for our characters souls, operating in morally bankrupt spaces, only now and again finding the way to do what is right. Sicario 2 was always going to have to justify itself as a sequel, if it isn’t as good as the first one than what is the point of it? Yet here we are. It’s not as good as the first film, but it does expand upon it, and still feels like a worthy sequel. Smartly, Sheridan has shifted his tough world view away from the war on drugs, and onto the war on terrror. Using a new theme to again cynically explore the relationship between the US and Mexico.
If Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario represented the loss of innocence, here it’s about finding a slice of redemption. Brolin and Del Toro do terrific work as characters who have committed despicable acts, who are faced with decisions between morals and survival. Brolin may be the man of the moment right now, but Del Toro is the real heartbeat of this movie. His darkly, tragic hit-man is given just the right amount of soul by Sheridan. The film might not live up to Villeneuve’s direction, but Sheridan marks himself out here as the natural successor to Cormac McCarthy. The film may not hit quite as hard as the original, but it is still an emotionally charged, tense piece of cinema.
That’s not to say that Stefan Sollima, the incoming director, does poorly. He mounts set pieces incredibly well, whilst I enjoyed the way the action moved from a detached view during the opening terrorist attack to a more immediate feel during the climax. The villain of the piece is handled well too. In another story the Cartel leader would be a moustache twirling villain, here he isn’t even shown. In fact, nothing he does effects the plot of the film at all, what we are left with is characters in a tragic situation, where they start to become the villains. There is no good and bad here, just people stuck in a continuous cycle to survive.
It may lack some of the verve and bite of the original Sicario, but make no mistake, this is a worthy sequel. Brolin and Del Toro both do fantastic work, but the real star here is Sheridan, who continues his fantastic writing streak, in a film which marks him out as the next Cormac McCarthy.