I found it a grave disappointment that I wasn’t able to see Sicario in the cinema. Since it was released, the director of it, Denis Villeneuve, has fast become one of my favourite directors. I eventually ended up watching Sicario on Netflix, but the tension it created and the darkly beautiful direction and cinematography confirmed to me that I should have seen it in the cinema. That meant I wasn’t taking any chances with Sicario 2: Soldado. Even though Denis Villeneuve, Roger Deakins and Emily Blunt haven’t come back for this one, with writer Taylor Sheridan, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin returning, I had hopes that it would still be a great film. Sadly though, this was really disappointing. It’s not a bad film, it just could have been so much better.
The film focuses on the aftermath of a terrorist attack where it is believed that the Mexican cartels helped to smuggle the terrorists into America. In response to this, the Secretary of Defence appoints CIA agent Matt Graver to eliminate the problem by inciting a war between the cartels so they tear themselves apart. To do this, Lauer once again recruits Alejandro Gillick to assist him. To aid in starting the war, Graver and Gillick kidnap the daughter of cartel leader Reyes, Isabela, but things go wrong, creating a situation that puts Gillick in conflict with the CIA. Now to start with the positives, the start of the film is excellent in showing the murky morality of the CIA and their willingness to commit horrific acts in the name of security and the film does a good job at showing how both the cartels and the CIA exploit people in need in order to fulfil their own goals. The problem though comes through the lack of a centre in the film. The first film had Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer, acting as a centre for the film, with Graver and Gillick in supporting roles. Here though, with Gillick and Graver in the lead, there’s not really a way for the audience to connect to the world or a character to identify with as a way into this world. The action of the plot here also serves to remove a lot of the intrigue and power that made the first film work so well. By giving us more of an insight into Graver and Gillick, they end up becoming less interesting characters rather than more interesting. In some ways, the plot here also goes against the first film. The first film was all about controlling the cartels but here, the plot is about making sure the cartels go out of control. It feels like a complete 180 in terms of the goals of the characters. It also doesn’t help that we are asked to sympathise more with Gillick in this one, making him the unquestioned hero of the film, rather than in the first one where he was the ultimate example of how much damage the drug war has caused.
The performances help to save the film though. Even though the character isn’t written as strongly, Josh Brolin still gives a great performance as Graver, showing the loyalty he has to Gillick and how he is uncompromising in his tactics, doing whatever he feels is necessary to end the war on drugs. Benicio del Toro as Gillick meanwhile is also great, even though the character arc doesn’t quite work, he does sell the broken nature of the character, the relationship he has with Graver, and his relationship with Isabela making him a somewhat better person. Speaking of which, Isabela Moner as Isabela is great here, giving probably the best performance in the film, showing her fear at the situation realistically and showing how the children of cartel leaders are just as much victims of the cartels. The whole thing makes it clear though that a better film would have been made with Isabela as the lead character, focusing more on the damage caused in Mexico by the cartels, with Graver and Gillick in supporting roles showing the danger anyone faces from the impact of the cartels.
On a technical level, whilst director Stefano Sollima and DP Dariusz Wolski are able to create some solid tension throughout the film, they just aren’t as strong as Denis Villenueve and Roger Deakins. There are no scenes in this one with the tension of scenes like the border crossing in the first film and the harshness of the environment isn’t as strong here as it was in the first one, it just feels too clean and doesn’t have the same visceral feel that the first film did. The score though is just as strong here as it was in the first one Hildur Guðnadóttir capturing the same ominous atmosphere in the music that the tragically departed Johann Johannsson gave the first one.
Overall, Sicario 2: Soldado is a disappointment. It is a solid film but it lacks the special spark that made the first film work so well. There are some great moments of moral ambiguity and the performances are excellent, but the style of Stefano Sollima and Dariusz Wolski is not as strong as that of Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, the plot removes a lot of the mystique around Graver and Gillick and it lacks a clear centre to focus the film around, which should have been Isabela. There is a great movie in here, but unfortunately, the ideas that should have been used were not explored to their full potential.
My Rating: 3/5