Bemoan if you must the absences of Sicario director Denis Villeneuve and star Emily Blunt from the sequel, Sicario: Day of the Soldado. We'll be focusing on what's there, not what isn't. What's there is another nerve-wracking, searing tale by writer Taylor Sheridan (who wrote the first movie). From the outset, the Sicario sequel ups the violent ante from the original, spinning a conspiratorial, corrupt, timely thriller about desperate times and more desperate measures.
After a terrorist attack rocks the United States, CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is tasked with doing anything to stop Mexican cartels from smuggling terrorists over the border. "I’ll have to get dirty." Graver tells the SecDef.
"Dirty is exactly why you’re here."
After enlisting the help of old buddy Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), Graver and his team start a war between two cartel factions, killing a lawyer and kidnapping the young daughter (Isabella Moner) of one of the bosses.
Of course, nothing goes as planned after that. People die, and more extreme measures are called for. The movie builds and builds until multiple storylines are spun together in a satisfying ending that brings us full circle. "Sicario" means "hitman," and the first film stays small scope while commenting on the larger picture. "Soldado" means "soldier," and, make no mistake, the sequel is a war.
The War on Drugs remains as convoluted as ever in Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Sheridan is able to spin and surprise by once again placing his story in the muddled world of US law enforcement and border politics. "Serve and protect" is replaced by "attack and react" as it seems the CIA is above every law known to man. It's a dark viewpoint, but not necessarily a false one. Making the script as violent and hyperbolic as possible, Sheridan is essentially making a form of satire. Nevertheless, the movie never feels far from the truth.
As Graver, Brolin is never anything less than believable. But his performance is elevated by Del Toro as the two expand on the enviable chemistry they shared in the first film. Both are veteran soldiers in an unwinnable war and they share a sense of hopeless fortitude. They've done unspeakable things, and they'll continue doing unspeakable things in their government's name.
Despite the main characters' shared professional acumen, they're embroiled in a shitstorm beyond their control. Soldado remains consistently unpredictable as the violence mounts and double-crosses are double-crossed. Graves and Gillick find themselves in way too deep, and the thrills come from the chaos. As Soldado unfolds, all you can do is sit back and wait to see who makes it out alive — the mark of a well-executed thriller.