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"Sicario 2": Emily Blunt is desperately missing on "Soldado's Day"

The sequel lacks some of its key staff, and it turns out.

[Thisstoryincludesspoilersfor Sicario: Soldado's Day ]

In 2015, the brutal border drama Sicario performed well with critics as well as audiences, even a few Oscar nominations. The reception of the film was not least due to the fact that the portrayal of the bickering war between the American police and Mexican drug cartels was influenced by the perspective of FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt). Blunt's performance, much like the character that served as the focal point, was a big part of why Sicario worked as well as he did. Their absence in the sequel Sicario: Soldado's Day gave cause for concern. Soldado's Day is indeed a step down, but not only because Blunt is nowhere to be found in the new story.

The absence of the original director Denis Villeneuve was also a cause for concern. Although he had previously directed some French-language films in his career, Villeneuve sprang to the US to direct films such as Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival which made his pronounced sense of craft unique Visuals coupled with his collaboration with cinematographer Roger Deakins made him a filmmaker to watch. While the new director Stefano Sollima tries to monkey Villeneuves and Deakins' style, his attempts are unfortunately hollow and unsuccessful.

At first glance, some of what made Sicario visible is again present in Soldado's Day where Sollima works with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. The film begins with a nocturnal depiction of illegal immigrants trying and failing to cross the US-Mexico border with static footage of helicopters flying above them. Such recordings are consistently imitated, much as Deakin's drone cameras used for the original Sicario . And there are a number of shots that show a realistic view of satellite cameras and some night-time shots on the original. The purpose is simple enough to create a sense of "you are there" with an urgent, immediate style of filmmaking. So Soldado's Day feels similar enough to its predecessor from a surface plane. But though Sollima tries to copy what Villeneuve has done to make the original film visually portrayed, it all feels like a pale shadow of that earlier story

The timing of this film could not be worse; The current debate on illegal immigration in the United States is worrying. There is the specter of an unconscionably cruel family demise at the border, which is causing major protests across the country, coupled with the recent strengthening of the Supreme Court's travel ban against predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East. Although the filmmakers behind Day of the Soldado had no control over the publishing strategy and placement of their film in the current news cycle, they watched a movie in which American police and military gun battles with Mexican police in the drug cartels are now double unpleasant.

But even taken out of the present context, the Soldado's Day is a nasty, scattered piece of work. Much of what happens in the film is removed from the events of the first Sicario though both were written by Taylor Sheridan and show a handful of the same characters. Kate Macer is not mentioned either directly or implicitly, and the few times that the backstory of the relentless Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) is mentioned is so obliquely about a dialogue that sounds after the main photograph was taken.

Where Blunt was the driving force Sicario Soldado's Day is aggressive, obnoxious macho. Alejandro is again being campaigned by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who was hired by the US Secretary of Defense to secretly start a war between two big drug cartels in Mexico in retaliation for a vicious terrorist bombing. Hours Graver takes Alejandro with him so he can tell Isabel, the vivacious teenage daughter of one of the "warring" Mexican drug lords, hoping to convince the drug lord that his rival is behind the hijacking. The plans quickly spiral out of control and Graver is ordered to remove as many witnesses and extraterrestrial elements as the daughter of the drug murder. Alejandro, however, is not ready to kill the girl because …

Well, that is not remotely clear. It's very distorted for Alejandro who literally kidnaps the teenage girl into a reverse Stockholm Syndrome, all the more so as Sheridan's script does not comment on this very nasty scenario. It may be even worse and even more inexplicable that Graver shows the appearance of conscience in the final scenes, despite all that he has no reason to. (And despite the fact that Graver had no conscience in the original movie).

It is also inexplicable that the construction of the film is quickly wasted: At one point, a government official (Catherine Keener) deliberately mentioned this Two of the terrorist bombers from the first moments were American citizens, without the script being ready to acknowledge how much thorny the situations are on the screen. And the war between drug cartels is essentially abandoned before it starts. When it turns out that Mexican bulls are in the pockets of the cartels, it serves as the basis for a shootout and is never raised again.

During the Day of the Soldado Sollima tries to bring a sense of grittiness to the proceedings. The outdoor scenes in Mexico are in a sickly yellow, and some of the action sequences feel like the product of another filmmaker in awe of Alfonso Cuaron's vigorous Children of Men . They consist of a series of shots longer than you might expect, which seemingly exist only so that anyone can tell with a keen eye how long the shots themselves are, rather than serving the story. But the gun depicted is largely bloodless, reflecting lifelessness at the heart of the story. Without the emotional core that Blunt represents, Sollima can only portray the rugged and mostly amoral men with whom she was surrounded.

Perhaps a continuation of Sicario would never be blunted as a leading actress or at least a supportive character. Soldado's Day though not the worst of his many problems, is frustratingly short of his female characters. When we meet Isabel for the first time, she is about to beat a girl in her preschool, suggesting that she is very hard and self-reliant. But as soon as she is kidnapped, Isabel turns into a pretty mild girl in distress, being dragged around by one or another man. What we have with Soldado's Day is a film that looks particularly repulsive in the face of current events, feels soulless and empty without the emotional core that made the first movie so interesting.

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