Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2017)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Sicario: Day of the Soldado</strong> (2017)

(On Cable TV, January 2019) There are times when I wish we’d be able to take movies, put them in a time capsule and see them a few years down the line once the real-world context calms down a little. Such is it with Sicario: Day of the Soldado, a solid thriller that has the misfortune of espousing a pessimistic view of the world at a time when real-world American politics were primed to make hay with thriller elements. To put it bluntly: the movie opens with immigrants blowing up an American store, blending al-Qaeda threats with cross-border immigration … and was released shortly before a midterm election where illegal immigration was bandied about as a cheap boogeyman. Excerpts of the film even showed up in misinformation “news” segments. Such a movie can’t win in such a politically charged moment. The basic storytelling device of justifying the worst lapses in morals by the presence of a terrifying enemy is a common one in thrillers—and properly handled, it can even be convincing. But there’s something about the blunt-edged way that Soldado makes its point that is not just graceless, but actively seems to be courting a certain viewership that may not make a difference between a screenwriter’s tool and real-world paranoia. It doesn’t help that Soldado never stops to consider the morality of its actions, as our “protagonists” react to the opening provocation by going to a foreign country in order to set up a false-flag operation, kidnapping a child in order to create a gang war. Soldado is up-to-the-moment in terms of technology (the film has a pleasant mechanical heft to its use of vehicles), but it’s also sadly very much of the time in terms of amorality. It’s this callous eagerness to embrace a lack of morality that’s disturbing to viewers: it seems to bring comfort to those who would like to achieve objectives by all means necessary, and cuts a bit too close to disaster these days. I’m actually bothered by the fact that I’m bothered by this, because in many ways Soldado is a solid but unremarkable thriller. While obviously a step down from the first Sicario (which was merciless but self-aware about it), Soldado has some fantastic action sequences, a great ominous soundtrack, a decent turn by Benicio del Toro and a plot that could have worked well had it included some pushback against its own actions. But it doesn’t. Stefano Sollima’s direction is competent without being stellar, and the same goes for the cinematography, action and other technical aspects of the film. It’s decent enough on its own right, but a disappointment compared to the first one, and a borderline-repellent work in today’s context. I would look forward to a re-appreciation in a decade, especially if the United States somehow regains some kind of effective morality by that time.

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