It’s impossible to view “Sicario 2: Soldado” in isolation from the current real-world events along America’s southern border. Indeed, the film finds itself cruelly separated from the comfort of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins’ reassuring presence. Also discarded is Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Macer and with her any shred of conscience “Sicario” possessed.
With the nasty woman silenced, this soulless sequel jettisons the nuanced, if clinical, study of the morality of the border war being fought between the authorities and the ruthless drug cartels in favour of a tone-deaf, crassly racist American military revenge porn.
When the Mexican drug cartels are implicated in a brutal suicide bombing, the American Government turns to black ops specialist Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his ‘Sicario’ Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) to destroy the Reyes Cartel by starting an internecine cartel war. But when their plan is successful, the government changes its mind and orders Graver to clean up the situation.
There’s occasional mention of ‘the President’ and although he’s never seen on screen, we all know whose presence looms large in this violently fetishized look at the issues in play around the Mexican border. The needless conflation of Islamic terrorism with illegal border crossings is a Trumpian wet nightmare, cynically designed to exploit the ignorance and prejudices running rampant in what passes for civil society and the gratuitous detail and sadistic glee with which the film revels in every single shocking moment leaves a bitter taste in the mouth which isn’t even barely washed away by the throwaway line buried away much later on which concedes that most of the suicide bombers were homegrown terrorists.
Without Deakins’ visuals and Villeneuve’s directorial verve, the shallowness and paucity of Taylor Sheridan’s script is cruelly exposed; the tricks and flourishes which worked the last time predictable and lazy this time around. The visuals are flat, disjointed and blandly bleak and the story is hampered by a haphazard approach to the narrative, the floor of the editing room seemingly having witnessed a conflict at least as casualty-strewn as what made it to the screen. The third act, in particular, is rife with timing and logistic issues, with a sunrise particularly exposing the technical ineptitude.
The performances from the cast are fine, with Brolin and Del Toro their usual dependable selves despite the questionable material but this time around it’s very much a man’s world; an old white man sitting in a comfy office using overwhelming military force the way a child hurls its toys out of a pram to soothe its temper. Katherine Keener has the thankless task of being the token woman in authority but far from being the voice of reason, she is reduced to being a hatchet-faced apologist, carrying out the orders from above without concern or compassion. At least Isabela Moner manages to bring a little shred of humanity and pathos to the film in her largely silent role as the kidnapped daughter of a drug kingpin.
Lacking the coherence, style and self-awareness of its predecessor, “Sicario 2: Soldado” is a profoundly deplorable experience. Infuriatingly irresponsible and morally reprehensible, it’s not a forgettable, dumbly violent hawkish American action thriller like “American Assassin“, it’s (literal) border-line propaganda which could have real-world consequences.