In the original SICARIO, FBI agents Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) were part of a Critical Response Unit that raided an Arizona safehouse owned by a Mexican drug cartel. Inside they found numerous decaying corpses. This led Macer on an investigation that involved a trip to Juarez, Mexico and ended with a lethal operation in a tunnel that crossed the U.S./Mexico border. These activities were authorised by her boss, CIA Agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and involved an operative called Guillermo Diaz (Benicio del Toro). Eventually, after many fatalities, Macer was left morally depleted by everything she had seen. In the end, she couldn’t tell if she was actually on the side of good, fighting the Sonora Cartel, or if the corruption and violence of the US Government meant it was merely a larger, better-armed criminal force.
In the sequel, SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, Macer has moved on and Matt Graver and Guillermo Diaz are tasked by the government to stop the cartels from transporting terrorists into the United States. The smuggling of people can be more lucrative than drugs, it seems. Graver decides to create a war between the Mexican drug cartels. This requires a number of false-flag murders and the kidnapping of Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the school-age daughter of a drug lord. This operation, as with the first story, is in a legal grey area. Graver and Diaz are under orders from the Department of Defense, but when things don’t go according to plan, they are caught between the needs of the Mexican and US governments and the deadly threat of the cartels. Fingers are pointed. Fall guys are sought.
SICARIO was a violently watchable drama where we followed Emily Blunt’s FBI character as she wised-up, and fundamentally changed, after she understood the big picture. The brutality and amoral actions of Guillermo Diaz was part of this transformation. In SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, Diaz is the character whose journey we are most involved with, although Isabela Reyes’ struggle as she learns more about the consequences of her drug lord father’s activities, also captures our attention. We see how the people-smuggling works through the eyes of young Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez) and this reveals yet another strand of the tale. Miguel is an American citizen who lives on the border in Texas and a cousin chooses him to get involved in this criminal life.
Writer Taylor Sheridan has journeyed deeper into the world of the first film, and has attempted to add ISIS and Somali piracy to the mix, to no great effect. When the violence goes down on the borderlands, the film is strongest. Once again, no one is untouched by crime and the spiritual decay that accompanies it.
If you just want to watch it as a full-on action movie, SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO is absolutely that, however it is the war with the cartels and the cascading damage it creates that is the most compelling part of this tale. There is something desperate and soulless about what is happening in this world and this effectively underwrites the danger and the violence. Isabel Moner and Benicio del Toro have the most to do and their performances stand out accordingly. Director Stefano Sollima takes the reins on this second outing and although this isn’t as powerful as the first, it still delivers a thrilling, nail-biting two hours at the cinema. (7/10)