Friday, 29 June 2018

Sicario 2 - Soldado

Dancing Cheek To Cheek

Sicario 2 - Soldado
(aka Sicario - Day Of The Soldado)

2018 USA/Italy Directed by Stefano Sollima
UK cinema release print.

The last time I saw the winning combination of Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro lighting the screen up, they were both looking very different to how they appear in real life, going toe to toe (toe to chest, actually) as Thanos and The Collector in the excellent Avengers - Infinity War (reviewed here). However, the film where they absolute burn the screen down with their performances has to be the original Sicario (which I reviewed here).

When I first heard that the Hollywoodland people were planning a sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s excellent war on drugs classic, I didn’t think it was such a great idea to do a follow up to a film that was so striking and had such a powerful ending. Also, the Emily Blunt character was written out very early on in the genesis of this sequel and I think that was actually a big mistake (and I’ll get to why I think that’s the case a little later on). I also remember saying that the original was something that was so morally ambiguous in the way the main characters were portrayed that I didn’t think I could ever watch it again. However, I did watch it again a couple of months ago because the solid direction coupled with the absolute gorgeous cinematography was haunting me (and did I mention the Blu Ray had come right down in price to a few quid?). I have to say that, although the intensity of the film was somewhat diminished when you knew what was coming, I actually liked it a lot better the second time around and will probably even watch it again sometime in the next decade. Nevertheless, a sequel to the story of these particular characters just seemed wrong.

This is neither here nor there, though, as a sequel has been made with the atrocious name of Sicario 2 - Soldado, as it’s known in the UK and with the slightly better title of Sicario - Night Of The Soldado in various other territories. Now, I have to say I was expecting a little better of director Stefano Sollima, purely and unfairly because he’s the son of Sergio Sollima, who directed at least two of my favourite spaghetti westerns back in the 1960s. However, it would be true to say that this film suffers a lot because it doesn’t have the keen eye and gravitas of Villeneuve’s original, aided substantially by Roger Deakins' absolutely jaw dropping cinematography and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s striking score.

Instead, what we have are two great central performances, again by Brolin and Del Toro but, with a storyline which, in some ways, fails their characters a little bit, I think. Although they are both quite blistering here, Del Toro’s character Alejandro seems to lack the emotional weight of the slightly earlier version we’d seen before but, again, I think the writing failed him a little. I kind of expected the writing to soften him down a little in this one, to be honest, because the trailer showed that there was a kid in it but Brolin, too, seems to be a little more diminished in that he has a little more overtly expressed emotion to his character this time out.

I’ve been trying to figure out just why this is and I think it’s because it’s written from a slightly different point of view this time around. In the first one, almost everything was very much shown through the eyes of Emily Blunt’s outsider character and, although we didn’t stay with her the whole time, I think it would be true to say the majority of the movie is pretty much experienced as an audience from her point of view and this really allows Brolin and Del Toro the contrast needed to come in and be very hard hitting, almost brutal, with their rendering of their characters. Sicario 2 - Soldado kind of lacks this approach. True, the film has a fairly strong second opening (after a prologue featuring people trying to get across the border), set in an American supermarket which is absolutely terrifying. Alas, that’s the most terrifying sequence in the movie and when a young girl played (brilliantly) by Isabela Moner is thrown into the mix, we’ve already started renewing our relationship with Brolin and Del Toro so her reactions to the characters, quite apart from being from a different kind of point of view to Emily Blunt’s character from the first one, are somewhat diminished as we have already been following their antics before this point. If it would have been me I think they would have been better off starting with this scene and introducing her character from early on, sticking with her throughout the entire length of the film. As it happens, her shock and horror at the events going on around her are less useful in this regard and... well... you just feel less.

Now, I can’t blame the writers for doing this, to be honest. The structure serves a story where Brolin and Del Toro split up for the majority of the movie and so trying to tell this tale from a single viewpoint might have seemed a bit odd. It doesn’t, however, get away from the fact that you really do feel this one a lot less.

Added to this is the fact that the cinematography, so beautiful in the first movie, is somewhat pedestrian in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got a very competent and very clean look which I appreciate but... well... it’s no Sicario.

Also, we have a musical score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, who has worked with the original film’s composer a number of times, trying to sound something like his predecessor but never quite getting there... at least in the mix as it stands in the cinematic release (the stand alone listen may be a quite different beast, I suspect). In fact, I’m sure that, by the end of the movie, they had either re-recorded one of Jóhannsson’s main themes from Sicario or, perhaps as likely, just tracked it straight into the movie in an attempt to give the audience something they were at least familiar with. Which is a shame because the music is certainly very good but...not really holding its own, in comparison.                            

Added to this we have some quite badly telegraphed ‘miracle escapes’ for some of the characters along with some ‘surprise attacks’ which are just a little disappointing because you can usually see them coming. There are some touching moments where Del Toro and his charge are helped by a deaf man and his family in the desert but a few brilliant scenes do not a great movie make and, sadly, although this is quite a good thriller, it’s really not got that ‘gut punch feeling amidst the incredible visual beauty’ which the Villeneuve movie had in spades.

So there you have it. Sicario 2 - Soldado implies quite heavily that there will be a third part and... well, we’ll have to wait and see if I can get excited about that prospect later on down the line. For now, Sicario 2 is a competently crafted but by no means outstanding piece of genre cinema which I think will divide audiences passionately and which, perhaps, really didn’t need to say anything further than what we already know about the characters. And I think I’ll leave it at that.

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