Release: 29th October 2018
Format: BR / DVD
The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.
There is one thing literally no one was thinking at the end of Denis Villeneuve’s scorching original property Sicario; that was, “well this needs a sequel”. Here was the definition of a one and done picture. As brilliant as it was, the story had reached a natural, somewhat open, conclusion; so what more was to be said? Quite a lot apparently, because left field sequel Soldado is an equally tangled web of intrigue, deceit and cocaine scented grey area.
Taking place a few years after the soul crushing nihilism of Kate Mercer’s failed crusade, Soldado picks up with Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver hot on the tail of yet another drug kingpin. Where Sicario dealt solely in narcotics, Soldado branches out to the wider implications of the drug trade; namely human trafficking and its role in terrorism. Well, actually that is not all. It also looks at America’s continual meddling in foreign politics, takes on the wider notions of US / Mexico border relations, and asks questions about what weapons the Western world uses to fight modern wars. It’s a lot to take on, and in typical Taylor Sheridan fashion, not all motivations, decisions and conclusions are signposted. So spiritually, Soldado is most definitely a sequel. But beyond that, it is a wildly different from its older sister.
As much as director Stefano Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski try to mimic the aesthetic of what Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, they never quite establish the same brutal nightmare. There is instead a cool haze and a labored stride, like the Marlboro man taking a long drag while watching the sun set. Soldado has its moments of shock – namely a sobering opening scene – but for the most part, it is a film less about loss of hope and more about bureaucratic frustrations. To that end, it has a different pace, a different soul. This isn’t necessarily to its detriment, but rather supports the feeling that this is its own story in its own space. We are not quite in Marvel Cinematic Universe territory, but it feels as though Soldado is taking us in this direction for the world of Matt Graver and Alejandro.
Neither is Soldado quite the homerun that Sicario was. But even in its weakest moments it’s a stronger viewing experience than most run-of-the-mill thrillers you’d catch on Netflix these days. The biggest frustration is that Catherine Kenner is tragically wasted in the token role of Cynthia Foardes. Her tumultuous rapport with Brolin could have offered a much stronger subplot that would have given him a substantially more rewarding arc outside of the 1st and 3rd act. Del Toro, meanwhile, gets an opportunity to humanize the otherwise ice-cold Alejandro. His greater moments come later in the film, with a tense as hell interrogation scene and something else that will not be mentioned here. Suffice to say, this is his movie, with little doubt that a third installment might well be on the way.
There is a deep sense that Taylor Sheridan enjoys telling stories that weave and intercede without fully committing to an ensemble piece. His ethics and politics are those of a guilt-ridden American on a soul-searching journey through the brutal landscape of America’s most rural population. Miguel, a character who lives so close to the Mexican border, he can literally spit over the wall, seems to personify Sheridan’s greatest hopes, fears and regrets of America’s involvement with Mexico (or maybe even, to a larger extent, the world). So his path throughout the film might arguably be more integral than that of Alejandro or Matt. Where both mercenaries represent different sides of the same coin, Miguel is quite literally the variable outcome of what happens when that coin is tossed in the first place.
Film Grade: B
Some EPKs masquerading as special features. Still, there are a few snippets of info to be taken away.
Special Features Grade: D
An unnecessary but uniquely entertaining sequel. It has lofty goals and punches well above its weight. The end result is a satisfying addition to the Sicario…franchise?