So, the Mexican border wall? “Sicario 2” is obliquely about that wall and makes a decent case for building one.
The original “Sicario” (2015) was an under-the-radar hit, a mule-kick actioner about the nightmarish, MS-13 gang-populated drug cartels on the U.S.–Mexico border, featuring the matchless Benicio Del Toro as a wolfish assassin with a powerful moral code.
Besides him, three other characters stood out in the original: Emily Blunt as a rookie FBI agent, Josh Brolin as a perennially smirking, fabulous-haired surfer dude of a CIA agent, with the high-IQ ability to think 20 moves ahead of everyone else, and Jeffrey Donovan as another CIA operative (more on Donovan later).
Since “Sicario” was a sleeper hit, it didn’t seem like it would foster a franchise. Then President Trump put the border wall on the map, so to speak, and now this new “Sicario” movie feels like news. Maybe fake news. Maybe truthful speculation.
However, while getting rid of FBI rookies Kate Macey (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) was a bad idea, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” doesn’t exactly come up short. It might be a less compelling bridge to a third installment. It works. It’ll stay in your head.
The other timely, newsworthy thing about “Sicario 2” is Josh Brolin: He’s got a 2018 summer blockbuster hat trick going. He plays Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Cable in “Deadpool 2,” and now reprises the rubber-footwear-loving agent Matt Graver. Here, he swaps out rubber flip-flops for rubber Crocs.
Graver breathes the rarified air of the highest Pentagon and White House clearances; he’s the go-to man when America wants to play dirty pool and needs deniability. The dirty pool he’s asked to play has to do with terrorists infiltrating America due to Mexican drug cartel activity—what else? This is a “Sicario” movie, after all.
Graver naturally calls up his legendarily competent lone wolf, Mexican wartime associate and buddy—former-lawyer-turned-assassin Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). For purposes of deniability, of course, but also because Gillick’s a proven killer of cartel members.
Pesky Moral Code
There’s some upper-echelon war-room debate about how to take down cartels; it’s decided that cartel-boss assassination is useless, because if you kill the king, you end the war, and gang war is what they want. If the cartel gangs kill each other, America can appear to have clean hands.
So the above-mentioned duo of Graver and Gillick decide to kidnap a cartel kid, one Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the highly self-possessed, preternaturally smart-mouthed, Catholic school-attending, preteen daughter of a top drug kingpin, and they arrange for it to appear like the work of a different cartel.
Unfortunately for America’s shadowy chess players in the CIA, the assassin (as in the last movie) has a soft spot for vulnerable women and girls. They remind him of his lost daughter and revive his humanity.
Which means that when he’s ordered to wipe everything clean, he finds he just can’t do that and is therefore immediately on the run from Graver and crew, with a 12-year-old girl in tow, in the badlands of Mexico.
What made the original so compelling were the performances. Blunt was peerless, but it was Brolin’s charismatic boyish charm and infinitely confident smarm, backed by a potent intelligence, that won the day. He reeked of Ivy Leaguer turned spec-ops-military, turned spook.
Similarly brilliant was character actor Jeffrey Donovan’s firefighter-moustachio’d, shotgun-riding, cat-eyed agent, peering through thick military-issue glasses, absent-mindedly and clinically commenting on the horrific corpses hanging from bridges in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. All while observing with laser-focused 360-degree situational awareness of enemy action in the area. And then obliterating a car full of MS-13 gang members with an M4 rifle. Donovan just absolutely nailed this type of Ivy-League educated, ex-Navy SEAL turned CIA field operative.
And the border-crossing traffic-jam shootout involving CIA, Delta Force, and MS-13 gang members is as high-tension as anything in movies today gets.
In the second installment, Brolin’s fun, untouchable status is disappointingly taken down a notch: He’s repeatedly one-upped and made to look stupid by his scary-smart supervisor (Catherine Keener). So that’s no fun. And Donovan’s agent is given nothing to do and appears a superficial caricature of his previous razor-sharp characterization.
Only Del Toro remains a powerhouse. He’s always a powerhouse. He is powerhouse actor-man. See him roar.
Build the Wall?
What’s in the news is children being separated from parents, where deportation is concerned. This is echoed by little Isabel getting separated from her gang-boss dad. Not really related—but related nevertheless.
There’s lots of depicting of Mexicans doing the late-night border sneak; a suicide bombing in a Kansas City grocery store points the finger at Mexican cartels transporting Islamic terrorists over the border—it’s terrifying. Especially with Hildur Gudnadottir’s outstandingly menacing and dread-inducing score.
The third “Sicario” should feature a full-on Trump Mexican border wall finally in place and operational. Bring back the CIA confidence. Riff on that situation; fiddle around with the permutations and combinations of what could go wrong. Show us how both sides of the border could possibly benefit. Throw it all up against the border wall and see what sticks. Maybe life will imitate art.
If they also bring back Emily Blunt’s FBI brilliance and legal conscience for number three, it’ll make a trilogy of electrifying binge-watching worthiness.
‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’
Director: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Rated: R (strong violence, bloody images, and language)
Release Date: June 29
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5