Film Review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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This past weekend saw the release of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” A sequel to the 2015 film “Sicario,” it starts Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro who reprise their roles as CIA officer Matt Graver and black operative Alejandro Gillick, respectively. At the Mexican-American border, the pair team up to try to bring down a cartel kingpin – and start by kidnapping the kingpin’s daughter, Isabela (Isabela Moner).

As sequels go, this was a curious one to make – not because it’s bad, but because the events of the first film don’t inherently call for a follow-up. “Sicario” saw the drug war unfolding through the eyes of Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer, which gave the film a more personal, grounded perspective. However, she is noticeably absent from “Day of the Soldado.”

Instead, the movie focuses on a few different things, but most prominently how these drug cartels affect children. We see this with Isabela’s kidnapping – collateral damage for her father’s actions – and with Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez), a teenager who joins a gang and gets paid to help illegal immigrants cross the border. These plot threads in the film – children, immigration, the border, the drug war – are presented at an interesting time in America’s discourse, depicting how systemic forces affect individuals in devastating ways.

The performances of Moner and Rodriguez do elevate those stakes. I found the dynamic between Isabela and Gillick interesting because it shifts throughout the movie, blending unease with trust and exploring the grey area between justice and ethics. However, “Day of the Soldado” ultimately doesn’t add anything productive to the narrative beyond visceral imagery. The movie even leans into some harmful stereotypes about both Mexican and Muslim communities, especially the latter.

Because this movie opts to take a less focused approach to its storytelling, some of the plotlines are a little confusing to follow, particularly the character motivations for our leading men, as well as the teenager Miguel. They present Gillick as having a more personal connection to the kingpin, but I wanted to see that emphasized more. For his part, Miguel seems to be in it for the money he receives, yet the movie declines to explore his homelife more fully, which should be a greater factor than it is.

Despite the commanding presence of Brolin and del Toro, both of whom bring their characters to life with expectedly great performances, “Day of the Soldado” suffers from the absences of key talent behind the camera. Director Stefano Sollima constructs the movie competently, but it lacks that visual flare and tense pacing that “Sicario” director Denis Villeneuve brought to the table. Cinematographer Roger Deakins and late-composer Johann Johannsson are not among the credits, either. The latter’s absence is tragically unavoidable, but regardless, these factors make the texture of the film feel flatter and less rich.

“Day of the Soldado” will be engaging enough for most viewers; its action sequences are brutal and unapologetic, and the twists within the story work for the most part. While it’s a perfectly fine movie overall, it does visually and narratively pale in comparison to its predecessor, which circles back to the question of whether a sequel to “Sicario” was really necessary.

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