It’s fortuitous timing that Stefano Sollima’s Sicario sequel has hit cinemas. Parents and children being separated across the Mexican border; patrolling the Rio Grande in Laredo for potential people smugglers; acts of terror being carried out. It’s almost as if writer Taylor Sheridan knew what was going to unfold throughout Donald “Build that Wall” Trump’s presidency.
But, if you’re looking for scathing political satire, you’ve come to the wrong place. Whilst there are clear comparisons to be made, this isn’t an anti-Trump film – or even an anti-war film. This is simply a phenomenal writing, directorial and musical talent coming together to create a brilliant piece of cinema.
Sicario 2: Soldado loses Emily Blunt from the original but retains Mexican Operative, Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) and CIA agent, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin – there’s no escaping him this summer). They are reunited in a quest to start a war between the Mexican drug cartels, whilst trying to clamp down on the Mexican-US border owing to Yemeni terrorists being smuggled over the line.
Before talking about the film itself, we have to talk about the score. Hildur Gudnadottir has done an absolutely incredible job of creating a musical motif that completely underlines the grimy feeling of the film. Every time those three note patterns shattered through the cinema speakers, it enhanced the extreme tension that pervades almost every scene. It’s not often that a score is so stand-out, but in this case, Gudnadottir has performed an amazing feat with a simple repetition.
The cinematography is excellent. Dariusz Wolski has created a truly sticky, dirty, feel the sand under your fingernails kind of look to the film. As I noted about Sollima’s 2015 gangster thriller, Suburra, it’s a film that really gets under your skin. A lot of the scenes are in shadow or washed with a tainted tinge of yellow. It’s a very subtle technique, but it draws you into the world of secrets and lies that Alejandro and Matt lurk in.
Brolin, once again, is on top form. He’s excellent at playing the tough guy with an edge. You’ll spend a lot of the film trying to decide if he’s a hero or a villain – and that’s not a bad thing. There’s an extremely unsettling tension creeping in throughout the film and his somewhat ambiguous characterisation adds to this. Essentially, you don’t feel “safe” because even the alleged good guys are willing to indulge in a bit of torture and chaos.
The supermarket scene will stay with you long after the film does. Echoing the shoot out in Suburra, it’s a high-scale piece of drama that actually generated a few gasps in the cinema. It’s quite disturbing in its realness; truly piercing your consciousness and hooking you in. Sollima is not one for lingering, dreamy shots. When something happens, it happens in short, sharp bursts. This definitely creates a bigger impact. Sollima also seems to have something of a “signature” when it comes to violent shoot-outs as, after the fact, there is often a pan over the dramatic splatter pattern left behind. You might not see the action, but you will be made to look at the consequences.
There are so many strands to the film – the grooming of young Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez) into cartel life; the kidnapping of the cartel leader’s daughter (Isabela Moner) – but it never feels complicated. And it never feels like you’re having the plot spelled out to you, either. It’s dramatic and tense, weaving each story around the testosterone-fueled exploits of Brolin and del Toro’s characters.
It definitely feels darker than the original Sicario – and perhaps that is owing to absence of Emily’s Blunt’s more level-headed, poised character – but that almost only adds to your viewing pleasure. The acrid, dusty border line is a literal hotbed of simmering tensions. It’s a world of envelopes passed under tables; shoot outs at night fall; lying to one side to piss off the other.
Stefano Sollima has more than capably stepped in to Denis Villeneuve’s shoes to create a visually interesting, hard-hitting piece of cinema.