In action movies, there is usually a certain moral distance between the good and bad guys. Sicario: Day of the Soldado does not stand distinctly on either side and occupies uncertain ground. Instead it creates an experience using sound performances, suspense, and an effective feeling of mounting dread. In its story, CIA agent Graver (Josh Brolin) is called to action after a series of terrorist attacks in Kansas and Texas. He’s given authorization to use all means necessary to stop the enemy, including the use of dirty tactics. So he calls upon the services of his field operative Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) to carry out a sinister plan in Mexico. The goal is to start a conflict among the drug cartels so they can extinguish one another. It’s believed that they were responsible for smuggling the terrorists across the border.
Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are back in these dark roles from the previous movie “Sicario”. Brolin appears with a heavy beard, sandals, and a lot of unchecked authority. In an early scene, he demonstrates his extent in blackmailing a captive for information. Del Toro handles the riskier missions but grows a conscience when after kidnapping the young daughter of a drug lord, he decides to care for her safety. And alongside this narrative is a side-plot of a Mexican teenager being lured into becoming a human smuggler. Directed by Stefano Sollima, the movie is a sequel to 2015’s Sicario. But it lacks the same depth by having no moral conflict (as provided by Emily Blunts character from the first feature. She is no longer in the sequel). What’s left are the tense shootouts and gratuitous violence that sometimes have little meaning other than to show a punishing spirit. But what elevates ‘Day of the Soldado’ above its shallowness is the use of timing, atmosphere, and mood to generate suspense. Like when cinematographer Dariusz Wolski captures prolonged overhead shots of helicopters flying low above deserts. Or the accompanying ominous soundtrack by Hildur Guðnadóttir which gives the essence of a bleak undertaking. Combine that with the performance of Del Toro and Brolin, and it grows more involving.