Sicario: Day of the Soldato is a unique film in that its set in the same world as the first one; features a couple of characters from the first one and starts a war between two cartels – one of which was the antagonist in the first film… and yet, the story is not really a part of that story.
A terrorist action in the Midwest and an action to stop a group of illegals at the Mexican border are tied to together by Matt Graver’s (Josh Brolin) interrogation of a terrorist leader in Tunisia.
The film moves to a couple of arcs: a Mexican-American kid skips school to meet a cousin who can get him a job that pays well – bringing illegals across the U.S./Mexico border; in the U.S., discovery that the cartels have begun smuggling terrorists into the country finds Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) giving Graver free rein in creating and executing a plan to turn the cartels against each other.
Working with Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) again, Graver enlists the aid of Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) in kidnapping Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of the leader of the Reyes cartel (the same man who ordered the killing of his family).
After the successful kidnapping, Graver’s team is betrayed leading to all kinds of commotion – including a political withdrawal by the U.S. government and orders to clean up the situation.
Written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Stefano Sollima, Day of the Soldato lacks the obvious moral provided by Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer – resulting in some reprehensible behavior by Graver’s team and Alejandro (though perhaps Macer’s influence can felt in a couple of decisions towards the last moments of the film.
Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography somehow manages to be arid – even when the scene shifts away from desert areas.
Hildur Gudnadottir leans into the general amorality of the film with a stinging, propulsive score that helps keep the audience on edge. Gudnadottir’s score eerily echoes that of her mentor and teacher, Jóhann Jóhannsson (to whom the film is dedicated) for the first film.
The film’s plot – which weaves together a number of different arcs – is intricate but Sheridan and Sollima keep things moving in such a way that there is rarely any confusion about who belongs when at what point in time.
Sicario: Day of the Soldato is an accomplished film that walks the line between being too real for comfort (echoing as it does the current U.S./Mexico border situation) and being darkly entertaining.
Without doubt, Sicario: Day of the Soldato is one of the best films of the year.
Final Grade: A+