Out and about: Sicario 2: Soldado

I was a big fan of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. It conveyed the monotony and horror of the war on drugs really well. Taylor Sheridan crafted a taunt storyline, you had great actors in Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Jeffrey Donovan as Brolin’s foil. Alejandro Gillick as a character played really well to Benicio del Toro signature mix of pathos and violence. The music was the film’s unsung character that turned out a virtuoso performance. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s soundtrack carried a lot of the weight in the film with its dark dissonant ambience. It was in many respects a modern day spaghetti western in the grand tradition of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci.

Sicario 2: Soldado had a lot to live up too. Denis Villeneuve handed over directorial reins to Stefano Sollima: one of Italy’s best crime film directors. Sollima kept close to Villeneuve’s style from the previous film. Jóhann Jóhannsson was replaced on soundtrack duties by Hildur Guðnadóttir. This wasn’t due to Jóhannsson’s deadly cocaine overdose in Berlin; but a decision by the director to recruit an entirely new team.

She went from playing cello on the first film soundtrack to taking over the composition and performance of Sicario 2. Guðnadóttir kept a similar formula in the soundtrack, all be it with an even harder edge to the film. Most of the main players are back the exception of the FBI agents from the first film. Given the ending of the first film where Gillick made it clear to the Emily Blunt character that she wasn’t morally flexible enough. Sheridan Taylor takes on writing duties again.

Plus points
  • Matt Craver (Josh Brolin) and Steve Forsing (Jeffrey Donovan) chewing the fat, in classic spaghetti western cornball dialogue; that reminds me a lot of the

Nice day for a drive ha?

Aww, beautiful day. Blue skies, large calibre weapons. I love getting out of the office.

  • The film starts with a grand vision that feels very zeitgeist with illegal immigration being front-and-centre
  • The film does action exceedingly well. The assassination, kidnapping, bombings and shootouts are all incredibly well choreographed
Minus points

The Plot, the plot and oh did I mention the plot? ***Spoilerish ahead***

  • At the beginning of the film it paints a big canvas as the film moves from the border, Kansas city, Somalia, Djibouti and Washington DC over the first half hour. This grant vision fizzles out
  • The plot lacks morality centred in one person like the first film and the director compressed with the story arc. So that leads to….
  • Character inconsistencies. del Toro’s character Alejandro Gillick kills a cartel leader, his wife and his kids at the dinner table at the height of the first film. In Sicario 2; the film hinges on him having a massive change of heart and going soft. Matt Craver’s ‘the end justifies the means’ viewpoint suddenly goes soft, when he is required to have a cartel leader’s child killed
  • Plot logic: they are obviously going after the head of the Reyes cartel, with a view to understanding the organisation structure and operational methods. They are keen to find key decision makers. They find one and then abruptly drop it. Maybe it was editing and what we are seeing is a film pared down into just over two hours in duration
  • A weak flip-flopping president who is concerned that the deaths of corrupt Mexican federal police officers will impact his standing amongst 50 million Hispanic voters. In sharp contrast to signing off on covert action just a short time before to combat foreign terrorists using people smuggling rat lines to get into the US. Chances are he’s probably already screwed by his law-and-order stance a la Trump
  • Injuries that should have caused nasty disfigurement, don’t
  • The weak ending that is obviously setting up a franchise a la Marvel. That’s if Marvel allowed itself to go as dark as say Garth Ennis’ interpretation of The Punisher

I felt divorced from this film rather than numb from the grimness of the original. It’s hard to maintain power and impact, but Sicario 2 had so many doors that it could have gone through with the start of the plot, that the last half of the film felt like a cop out.

In summary

Modern day narco spaghetti western Sicario 2: Soldado is faithful to the original. It has bags of style and the kind of kinetic experience that you’d forget. A worthy successor to the original film with the exception of a story line that fizzles out and then comes back at the end to set up a Marvel-type franchise. Sicario 2 won’t have me watching it several times in the way that the original film did. I just hope that this is the movie making equivalent of a difficult second album and Sicario 3 will raise the bar again. Maybe hand the reins back to Denis Villeneuve and support Taylor with a writing team that will collaborate and challenge him to do better with the story, rather than the reductive process that Sicario 2 seems to have gone through. Stefano Sollima’s admitted as much in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter

We condensed the script’s narrative arc in order to preserve and pronounce the soul of the movie. The script was a bit wider in scope at first. Then, we organically pit the two lead characters [played by Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin] against each other, something that wasn’t present in the first draft. Story-wise, I felt it was a really important and interesting turning point