Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Film Reviews: 'Sicario: Day of the Soldado'

The Borderland Brutality of Sicario: Day of the Soldado

By Anthony Lane
July 9 & 16 Issue

Image result for sicario 2 soldado movie poster

Bad timing, or a lucky break? Either way, the release of “Sicario 2: Soldado” verges on the uncanny. Stefano Sollima’s film is set in various places, including Djibouti and the Gulf of Somalia, but the main dramatic arena is the border between Mexico and the United States, across which the characters make zealous efforts either to transport other humans or, alternatively, to stop them in their tracks. The minds of many viewers will immediately drift away from the fictional narrative and toward the actual events of recent weeks, along the same boundary, where children have been sundered from their immigrant parents and housed in detention centers. On June 23rd, news footage showed protesters blocking a bus as it left one of the centers, in McAllen, Texas, and chanting, “Set the children free.” And what particular spot do we visit, early in the film? McAllen.

There, we meet a teen-ager, Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), whose house is next to a border fence, on the American side, and who is recruited into the illegal-immigrant trade. Miguel, with his air of shyness and cunning, is a minor presence in the story, and yet without him it would not twist and turn as it does. The script is by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the original “Sicario” (2015), and though both tales abound in explosions, he likes nothing better than to light the fuse of a subplot and have it slowly burn. Some of his protagonists from the first film return for duty here: Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a federal agent whose sacred calling is to do the dirty work of the U.S. government and to clean up afterward; his sidekick, Steve Forsing (Jeffrey Donovan), who commits himself to chaos without removing his spectacles, like a homicidal librarian; and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), whose last name is never revealed. Everything about him feels classified, to be honest, down to his trigger finger.

One thing we do know is that a drug cartel, led by a guy named Reyes, murdered Alejandro’s family. Hence the sadness engraved on del Toro’s features, which are scarcely jovial at the best of times. Now he and Graver, on the say-so of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine), spearhead a covert scheme to kidnap Reyes’s twelve-year-old daughter, Isabel (Isabela Moner), and spirit her into America. The abduction will be pinned on a rival cartel, resulting in an internecine war: bring on the worst of times. That’s the plan, anyway, and what’s so grim is not just the laughable certainty that it will go wrong but the sourness of the political cynicism behind it. Where once we might have hoped for a constructive policy, we find only meddling and mayhem. As Graver says to Alejandro, “No rules this time. I’m turning you loose.”

The trouble is that the director cannot resist the mayhem. Far more than Denis Villeneuve, who directed the first “Sicario,” Sollima is enraptured by the lock-and-load mentality of his heroes. Graver, asked why he was allowed to speed straight through a checkpoint, replies, “Because I’m special,” and Forsing hymns the perfection of the day: “Blue skies. Large-calibre weapons.” Some of the armed encounters are suitably spectacular, but, when two dozen Mexican police officers, up against Graver and his team, die in a shoot-out on a dusty road, the movie shrugs them off as collateral damage—awkward for Graver’s superior (Catherine Keener), perhaps, but of no moral consequence whatever. The imposing gloom of the earlier movie is replaced by a breezier attitude: if the world around you, or the nation next to you, seems just too hot and too complex to handle, try throwing a load of military muscle at the problem, and stand back. If it winds up trapped in even deeper complication, tough.

And yet, despite that, “Sicario 2: Soldado” has got something. To be precise, it has an absorbing double act between Benicio del Toro and Isabela Moner, as Alejandro and the captive Isabel—the child of the man, remember, who was involved in the death of Alejandro’s loved ones. So how should he treat her in return? Wreak revenge, or risk a little mercy? They are thrown together in the scrubland near the border, and their relationship is wary and unhurried, with a faint echo of John Wayne and Natalie Wood, as a Confederate veteran and his long-lost niece, in “The Searchers” (1956). Moner is terrific, and her character’s fortunes can be read in her eyes—blazing to begin with, as she scraps with another girl in a schoolyard, but dark and blank by the end, their youthful fire doused by the violence that she has seen. Although Sollima’s film is unbothered, for the most part, by the plight of refugees, it gets one thing dismayingly right: our most significant witness, on the fault line where Mexico and America grate against each other, is a child.

‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado,’ brilliant and a bit nuts, lives up to original

By Richard Roeper

June 28, 2018
Image result for sicario soldado
Please don’t show up even a minute late for “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” and please don’t take a bathroom or snack break during the film.
Doing so puts you at risk of missing one of the many, many, many searing moments in this brilliant, bloody, gritty, dark and sometimes fantastically over-the-top fable about the evil men (and women) will do in the name of political agendas, self-preservation and the quest for power — and the salvation some will seek just when it seems they’re beyond redemption.
Shocking. Bold. Timely. Unforgettable. And a little bit nuts. THIS is how you make a sequel. Directed with aggressive, eye-popping flourish and urgency by Stefano Sollima (of the TV series “Gomorrah”), who plunges us into multiple storylines that eventually intertwine in crazy and sometimes deeply satisfying ways, “Day of the Soldado” is a worthy follow-up to the 2015 original (one of the best films of the decade).
Once again, the focus is on the unwinnable and convoluted and dizzying War on Drugs, and the complicated and often corruption-riddled dynamic between U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Mexican drug cartels. And even though director Denis Villeneuve and key cast member Emily Blunt are no longer part of the equation, the second chapter stands alone as a powerful and pulpy modern-day Western, thanks in large part to the great performances by Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, and a richly layered, gut-punch of a screenplay from Taylor Sheridan (who penned the first film).
One early scene in “Sicario 2” is depicted nearly entirely through the viewpoint of the night vision goggles used by American border patrol forces as they round up and apprehend migrants illegally crossing the border.
Meanwhile, in Somalia, U.S. military forces take down a terrorist outpost with cool precision — killing every gunman save one, who soon WISHES he was dead after he’s interrogated and psychologically tortured.
And in Kansas City, a group of men enter a big box store and set off a series of suicide bombs. (You won’t soon forget the images of a mother and her young daughter trying to slip out of the store while a terrorist regards them with soulless detachment.)
It all ties together. It’s all a buildup to our main story, which kicks in when veteran CIA operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is summoned to Washington, D.C. Armed with evidence the Mexican cartels are smuggling terrorists from other countries into the United States, CIA director Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener in an effectively cold-blooded performance) and Defense Secretary James Riley (Matthew Modine) tell Graver they want him to start a war among the cartels, by any means necessary.
I’ll have to get dirty, says Graver.
Dirty is exactly why you’re here, responds the secretary.
(Told you things go over-the-top at times.)
Brolin is the pitch-perfect choice to play the kind of grizzled, off-the-grid operative who could be wearing flip-flops, shorts and a Tommy Bahama button-down shirt and be at a backyard barbecue and STILL look as if he just scraped mud and blood off his shoes. And in an Oscar-worthy performance, Benicio del Toro is equally perfect as Grimes’ partner in dark ops, the attorney-turned-assassin Alejandro — who continues to seek revenge after a Mexican drug lord murdered his entire family.
Brolin and del Toro are masterful together. The dynamic between Brolin’s Graves and del Toro’s Alejandro is something out of a film-noir buddy film. Both men have committed countless atrocities — sometimes justified, sometimes not so much — and they share a world-weary bond as they gear up for the obligatory one last mission.
In the guise of a rival cartel, Graves and Alejandro pull off a bold, daytime kidnapping of the drug lord’s spoiled, rebellious, independent-minded teenage daughter in broad daylight in one of Mexico City’s most exclusive areas.
This is followed by a tremendous and outrageous twist that sets in motion a whole new series of conflicts and shootouts, as Graves and Alejandro get in so deep, there’s almost no chance the cavalry is going to rush in to save them. To say they’re on their own is an understatement.
Isabela Moner is a revelation as the drug lord’s daughter, who quickly ascertains she’s a pawn in a much bigger chess game than a conflict between two drug lords, and realizes no matter how it plays out, she’s almost certainly going to be killed at the end. Even though she knows Alejandro despises her father and wants to kill him, she puts her fate in his hands, banking on whatever paternal instincts Alejandro still has buried in his conscience.
Another subplot in “Sicario 2” involves the American-Mexican teenager Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), who lives in a house in Texas literally yards from the border, a point brought home in a number of stunningly effective overhead visuals. Miguel’s small-time criminal efforts quickly mushroom to the point where he finds himself pointing a gun at the head of Alejandro — leading to the most implausible and insane sequence in a film that never shies away from going big.
This is one of my favorite movies of 2018.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

los movies - This is one of the few Hollywood sequels that lives up to expectations. With incredible directing and cinematography, the film draws you right in and has you hanging on the edge of your seat for a superb and twisted climax. 'Sicario 2', unlike most thrillers, doesn't pander to the audience. It assumes you have a certain level of intelligence and relies on you, the viewer, to remember details of conversations or encounters without the need for flashbacks or narrated thoughts. It's truly a masterclass in storytelling and I highly recommend it to anyone who even slightly enjoyed the first 'Sicario' in 2015.
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