Sicario 2: Soldado review: if only all right-leaning thrillers were this riveting

Credit: Den of Geek

 

Dir: Stefano Sollima; Starring: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Isabela Moner, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. 15 cert, 122 mins

It’s said that to understand a man you must first walk a mile in his shoes. But with Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, just seeing them is enough. Graver made his entrance in Sicario, Denis Villeneuve’s ferocious cartel-busting thriller, wearing flip-flops to a top-level Department of Justice briefing – and he begins Stefano Sollima’s sequel browbeating a Somali pirate at a black site in Djibouti in a pair of khaki Crocs.

Practical, oh-so comfortable, and possessed of a flexible soul, Graver is a dress-down-Friday kind of special agent. And Sicario 2: Soldado’s attention to footwear shows it understands what made Villeneuve’s artfully glowering original tick. The new film – the title comes from Mexican Mafia jargon for “hitman” and “soldier” – is another tale of black ops in the borderlands.

This time, Brolin’s Graver and his partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), an elusive but hyper-capable hitman working for the US government, have been shifted centre-stage, and are presented as the more-or-less unambiguous heroes of the piece. Their mission is to spark a feud between two rival cartels by staging what look like tit-for-tat attacks: the gunning down in broad daylight of one capo’s chief lawyer in Mexico City, followed by the kidnapping of the other’s school-aged daughter Isabela (Isabela Moner).

The idea is the ensuing internecine carnage will derail the growing human trafficking racket which by all accounts is allowing jihadists to slip across the Mexican border into the United States. But the scheme goes spectacularly awry, leaving Alejandro in charge of the girl, while Graver works frantically behind the scenes to clean up the mess at all costs.

Absent this time is Emily Blunt’s upstanding FBI agent Kate Macer, who played audience surrogate in the first film, bearing increasingly horrified witness to the bleak, boots-on-the-ground reality of the drug war.

As such, this feels less like a commentary on lone-wolf machismo than a straightforward air-punching paean to it. But Sollima, an Italian veteran of the Gomorrah TV series, stages the chaos with a brow-furrowing, finger-interlocking precision that feels entirely worthy of what I suppose we should now be calling the “Sicario brand”.

There is a riveting set-piece in which Brolin and co hammer across the US-Mexican border in a police motorcade, only for it to slowly dawn that something is very wrong – a kind of breakneck remix of Villeneuve’s border-queue shootout, with a doom-laden build-up in keeping with the Canadian director’s signature style. (The low angles and looming tower blocks of the lawyer execution sequence also owe something to Christopher Nolan.)

Josh Brolin, from left, Jeffrey Donovan and Benicio Del Toro in Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Josh Brolin, from left, Jeffrey Donovan and Benicio Del Toro in Sicario 2: Soldado

The original Sicario had two regular Villeneuve collaborators to thank, director of photography Roger Deakins and editor Joe Walker, for crafting its atmosphere of grinding dread. And Sollima reaps impressively comparable results, thanks to Matthew Norman’s by-turns anxious and zonked cutting and Darius Wolski’s cinematography, which has the whole film basking in grubby desert light.

Taylor Sheridan returns as screenwriter, having polished off Hell or High Water and Wind River in the interim.  And in a sweet touch, there is a dedication to the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhansson, who gave the first its unmistakeable soundscape of shuddering percussion and prowling strings. The baton is literally taken up here by Hildur Guðnadóttir, a longtime Jóhansson collaborator, who expertly recaptures the baleful mood.

Quite honestly, it’s a thrill to see a mid-budget thriller crafted along such mature, unflashy lines – not least one with a right-leaning political bent, which hasn’t lately been much of a signal of aesthetic finesse, give or take the odd American Sniper or Hacksaw Ridge. Both Brolin and Del Toro play classic right-wing heroes – they’re grizzled predators whose hunting ranges uneasily intersect, each prepared to make snap judgements that run against their orders, providing it’s for the best as they see it.

Sheridan has a great ear for this kind of hardboiled machismo, and gives both their fair share of broken-glass dialogue to chew up and spit. He also mines queasy thrills from subjecting the formerly sheltered young Isabela to various traumatising scenarios, most of which involve adults being massacred in close proximity. The film doesn’t delight in the loss of her innocence so much as whip up a kind of adrenalised pathos around it, and it’s nastily effective.

The twin themes of border security and a child forcibly separated from her parents give Sicario 2 an unexpected tang of topicality – and early on, the (unseen) American President makes the Trumpian move of reclassifying the cartels as terrorist organisations in order to open up more brutal forms of recourse.

But a plot that at first looks like a simple, gung-ho, in-and-out job soon takes on the more complex rise and fall of a miniseries, and ends in a way that teases more stories to come, even while signing off the one at hand with a satisfying snap.

Perhaps a Sicario series would make sense after this, though part of me wants to keep this story for cinema: if the market wants franchises, let’s have more like this, please.

Source :

Telegraph

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