Please don’t show up even a minute late for “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” and please don’t take a bathroom or snack break during the film.
Doing so puts you at risk of missing one of the many, many, many searing moments in this brilliant, bloody, gritty, dark and sometimes fantastically over-the-top fable about the evil men (and women) will do in the name of political agendas, self-preservation and the quest for power — and the salvation some will seek just when it seems they’re beyond redemption.
Shocking. Bold. Timely. Unforgettable. And a little bit nuts. THIS is how you make a sequel. Directed with aggressive, eye-popping flourish and urgency by Stefano Sollima (of the TV series “Gomorrah”), who plunges us into multiple storylines that eventually intertwine in crazy and sometimes deeply satisfying ways, “Day of the Soldado” is a worthy follow-up to the 2015 original (one of the best films of the decade).
Once again, the focus is on the unwinnable and convoluted and dizzying War on Drugs, and the complicated and often corruption-riddled dynamic between U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Mexican drug cartels. And even though director Denis Villeneuve and key cast member Emily Blunt are no longer part of the equation, the second chapter stands alone as a powerful and pulpy modern-day Western, thanks in large part to the great performances by Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, and a richly layered, gut-punch of a screenplay from Taylor Sheridan (who penned the first film).
One early scene in “Sicario 2” is depicted nearly entirely through the viewpoint of the night vision goggles used by American border patrol forces as they round up and apprehend migrants illegally crossing the border.
Meanwhile, in Somalia, U.S. military forces take down a terrorist outpost with cool precision — killing every gunman save one, who soon WISHES he was dead after he’s interrogated and psychologically tortured.
And in Kansas City, a group of men enter a big box store and set off a series of suicide bombs. (You won’t soon forget the images of a mother and her young daughter trying to slip out of the store while a terrorist regards them with soulless detachment.)
It all ties together. It’s all a buildup to our main story, which kicks in when veteran CIA operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is summoned to Washington, D.C. Armed with evidence the Mexican cartels are smuggling terrorists from other countries into the United States, CIA director Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener in an effectively cold-blooded performance) and Defense Secretary James Riley (Matthew Modine) tell Graver they want him to start a war among the cartels, by any means necessary.
I’ll have to get dirty, says Graver.
Dirty is exactly why you’re here, responds the secretary.
(Told you things go over-the-top at times.)
Brolin is the pitch-perfect choice to play the kind of grizzled, off-the-grid operative who could be wearing flip-flops, shorts and a Tommy Bahama button-down shirt and be at a backyard barbecue and STILL look as if he just scraped mud and blood off his shoes. And in an Oscar-worthy performance, Benicio del Toro is equally perfect as Grimes’ partner in dark ops, the attorney-turned-assassin Alejandro — who continues to seek revenge after a Mexican drug lord murdered his entire family.
Brolin and del Toro are masterful together. The dynamic between Brolin’s Graves and del Toro’s Alejandro is something out of a film-noir buddy film. Both men have committed countless atrocities — sometimes justified, sometimes not so much — and they share a world-weary bond as they gear up for the obligatory one last mission.
In the guise of a rival cartel, Graves and Alejandro pull off a bold, daytime kidnapping of the drug lord’s spoiled, rebellious, independent-minded teenage daughter in broad daylight in one of Mexico City’s most exclusive areas.
This is followed by a tremendous and outrageous twist that sets in motion a whole new series of conflicts and shootouts, as Graves and Alejandro get in so deep, there’s almost no chance the cavalry is going to rush in to save them. To say they’re on their own is an understatement.
Isabela Moner is a revelation as the drug lord’s daughter, who quickly ascertains she’s a pawn in a much bigger chess game than a conflict between two drug lords, and realizes no matter how it plays out, she’s almost certainly going to be killed at the end. Even though she knows Alejandro despises her father and wants to kill him, she puts her fate in his hands, banking on whatever paternal instincts Alejandro still has buried in his conscience.
Another subplot in “Sicario 2” involves the American-Mexican teenager Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), who lives in a house in Texas literally yards from the border, a point brought home in a number of stunningly effective overhead visuals. Miguel’s small-time criminal efforts quickly mushroom to the point where he finds himself pointing a gun at the head of Alejandro — leading to the most implausible and insane sequence in a film that never shies away from going big.
This is one of my favorite movies of 2018.
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Stefano Sollima and written by Taylor Sheridan. Rated R (for strong violence, bloody images, and language). Running time: 123 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.