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New Release Review - SICARIO 2: SOLDADO

SICARIO 2: SOLDADO review
The CIA kidnaps a Mexican cartel boss's daughter in order to start a war south of the border.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham

SICARIO 2: SOLDADO poster


Along with his namesakes Leone and Corbucci, Sergio Sollima was a member of the holy trinity of Spaghetti Western filmmakers. The three movies he made in the genre - The Big Gundown; Face to Face; Run, Man, Run - were notable for their leftist political allegories, using the Old West as a stand-in for both the Mussolini regime Sollima grew up in as a young man and the increasingly anarcho-capitalistic Italy of the 1960s he found himself working in as an artist. All three films feature corrupt authority figures who control their wealth and maintain their power through subjugating the poor.

Who better then to direct a Sicario sequel than Sollima's son, Stefano, who burst onto the scene in some style with his 2012 debut, All Cops Are Bastards, the story of a rogue group of riot cops, and 2015's Suburra, a stunning mob thriller that draws on Roman lore to make the point that little has changed in Europe's first great capital over the millennia. Though screenwriter Taylor Sheridan returns, Sicario 2: Soldado owes more to the back catalogue of its director (and indeed its director's father) than its writer, with moments that almost feel like reworkings of sequences from Suburra, and a plot twist straight out of Sollima Senior's Face to Face.

SICARIO 2: SOLDADO

Unlike Sergio, who shot his westerns in Spain, Stefano gets to play on the real canvas, and like Suburra's commentary on Rome, Sicario 2 proves little has changed in the still Wild West since the era his father's movies took place in. Those with the power, money and guns are still profiting from the misery of peasants, who find themselves shuffled around between the bloodthirsty Mexican cartels who charge them extortionate fees to cross the border and the equally intimidating US authorities, who as we saw in the first film, are willing to sweep their morality under the carpet in the line of their dubious duty.

Emily Blunt sits this one out, but once again we have another female pawn in a man's war. This time it's Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), the bratty teenage daughter of the head of one of Mexico's two top cartels. In order to start a war between the cartels, the CIA, led by agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and 'sicario' Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) kidnap Isabela, making it look like she was snatched by a rival gang. Needless to say, things go pear-shaped, and Gillick and Isabela find themselves on the run from Graver, who has been ordered to terminate both to spare America's blushes.

SICARIO 2: SOLDADO

In Sollima's hands, Sicario 2: Soldado is a scaled down sequel that ups the action quota and reduces the dialogue while still getting its anti-authoritarian message across. Sollima creates tension from the off, dropping us into an unforgiving landscape where no one is to be trusted, where there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys, simply two rival ideologies, both out to line the pockets of those in positions of power, no matter the human cost. After a shocking opening that nods to Brian de Palma's The Untouchables, we're on edge throughout, distrustful and wary of the atrocities the film might visit upon its characters and its audience at any given moment.

More of a genre piece than its more grounded predecessor, Sicario 2 may at times jolt the viewer with far-fetched moments that remind you of its Spaghetti influences, none more so than the unlikely late resurrection of a gunned down character. Elsewhere the refugee subplot of Sollima Senior's Face to Face is reworked in a modern context, and there's the classic western scene wherein our anti-hero is given refuge by good people who remind him of something he's lost along the way. A late change of heart from a key figure ("Fuck it; fuck it all!") recalls the "Let's go," "Why not?" exchange between the protagonists of The Wild Bunch, another group of gun-toting white Americans whose actions endanger the life of a Mexican kid.

SICARIO 2: SOLDADO

Just as the spaghetti westerns reinvented a very American genre from an outsider's perspective, Sicario 2 comments on very current crises that affect not only America, but the entire western world, so much so that it's easy to imagine Sollima reworking the narrative to set the story in his native Italy, swapping the cartels for the Mafia, the border-hopping immigrants for the African migrants that make the journey across the Mediterranean on a daily basis. In fact, the film's least successful subplot, involving Islamist terrorists being smuggled into the US by Mexican people traffickers, may have played a lot more convincingly in a European setting.

A coda suggests there's more to come from the Sicario series, and let's hope so, as it's a saga for our times. We need more adult-oriented franchises from Hollywood so talented filmmakers like Sollima can hit paydirt without having to sell their souls in the superhero genre. It's a timely release for a movie about the US authorities kidnapping a Mexican child, and amid all the self-righteous and unironic crowing about Russian meddling in US affairs, it's a reminder that America has no qualms whatsoever about interfering in the affairs of foreign nations. Now why does that helicopter keep hovering over my house?

Sicario 2: Soldado is in UK/ROI cinemas now.




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