“No rules. Just orders.”
That’s the credo for the American special-ops forces deployed in the “Sicario” movies, as uttered by swaggering mission leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He’s the guy who, with his mercenary crew, does the dirty work the U.S. government doesn’t want to officially acknowledge.
I assume Taylor Sheridan, the writer of “Sicario” (2015) and its new sequel “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” wants those words to sound disturbing, a sign of how far America has strayed from its ideals. Some of that comes through, although one of the problems with both films is that Graver’s dialogue has a way of sounding very similar to one-liners that audiences cheer for at action movies.
For the sequel, we’ve ditched Emily Blunt, who played the central role in “Sicario.” That film was about the disillusionment of a gung-ho FBI agent. In “Soldado,” there’s nobody left with any illusions.
Graver is again joined by the mysterious, Mexican-born Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) for more off-the-books border control. The secretary of defense tells Graver to start a war with the drug cartels, which will spread chaos in Mexico. (He cites Iraq as a model, which tells you where he’s coming from.)
By the way, the cabinet secretary is played by Matthew Modine, which means Private Joker from “Full Metal Jacket” is now leading the U.S. Department of Defense. Kind of perfect, really.
The plan? To kidnap the daughter (Isabela Moner) of a drug kingpin, and blame the crime on his rival. The whole thing leads to chaos, all right, but not the intended kind.
Italian director Stefano Sollima captures this violent world in clean, suspenseful strokes. It’s more of a straight crime film than the first one, and effective enough even though the plot depends on a couple of very big coincidences.
Del Toro brings his cool presence, and looks better than he did three years ago. Brolin looks 10 years older than he did three years ago, which shows you what playing Thanos in the Marvel movies will do. Nevertheless, the actor does a nice job of just every-so-slightly complicating Graver’s amoral personality.
One of the most memorable aspects of the first film was the music by the late Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson (to whom the sequel is dedicated). Another talented Icelandic composer, Hildur Gudnadottir, takes over and extends Johannsson’s ideas with her own ominous themes.
There’s another “Sicario” movie planned, which ought to stretch the boundaries of how much nihilism Hollywood can offer. These are bleak films in which people on both sides of the border are doomed by virtue of being alive. That doesn’t leave much room for hope.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (2½ stars)
A streamlined sequel to the 2015 “Sicario.” This time, the amoral U.S. special-ops guys (Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro) try to ignite a drug war in Mexico, which sounds like a great foreign-policy idea. Taylor Sheridan’s script relies on some very big coincidences, and the overall mood is extremely bleak, but it’s effective enough as a crime film.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Seattle 10, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall