Denis Villenveuve has quickly risen to the highest echelon of American cinema, which is ironic, as he is a Canadian-born filmmaker. Starting his life in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Villenveuve was subjected to a way of life that only fellow Canadians understand. A sense of isolationism and a healthy fear of the elements drives many Canadian filmmakers to deal with the body and the mind in interesting ways; an acute sense of their surroundings dominates their films. Denis is no stranger to this ‘weird sex and snowshoe’ mentality that befalls Canadian artists, and his most interesting example of this came to form in 2015’s Sicario. Villenveuve’s pinpoint directing, stellar performances by Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, an incredible score by the late Johan Johannsson, and Roger Deacon’s breathtaking cinematography made Sicario an instant masterpiece; a film that will be looked back upon in decades to come. So when it was announced Villenveuve, Johannsson, and Deacon’s would not be returning for the sequel, it came as a great loss. And when the studio announced Stefano Sollimo would be taking control of the film, fans collectively asked, “who?”
So, who the f— is Stefano Sollimo? If you didn’t know before this weekend, you’re about to find out in a big way. Sollimo takes the reins from Villenveuve for the next installment of the Sicario franchise, Day of the Soldado. An Italian B-movie director taking over an incredibly American franchise originally brought to life by a Canadian art house director – it’s the perfect fit, no? When it was announced that Sollimo was taking over from Villenveuve, there was a collective sigh worldwide. When the first footage dropped for Soldado, fans of the first film were panicked; it looked like a hot mess. But as more trailers and footage were released, fears began to subside. Hell, the footage started to look promising. Still, walking into the theatre, it was hard to determine what to expect.
Well, leave it to the Italian to make a film so of-the-time that Trump supporters will use it as propaganda against the left and Democrats will use it as propaganda against the right. Plucked from Trump’s dark-twisted fantasy and filtered through a colorless lens reminiscent of Poliziotteschi films of the 60s and 70s, Day of the Soldado might be the only thing of 2018 to bring both sides of the political spectrum to common ground. Like Sicario, Soldado doesn’t shy from depicting America as a polarizing force and show their influence on the War on Drugs in less than flattering light. Every character’s actions are understandable, but none are justifiable. The film is brash and gritty and, as they put it in the film, ‘dirty.’ Del Toro and Brolin return, but this time there is no messing around. The film cuts to the chase in true Fernando Di Leo fashion, which is rich, coming from this Italian B-movie filmmaker. It’s violent, political, and fast.
This film isn’t going to immediately please fans of the first; the ominous and implicit torture scenes of Sicario have been replaced by quick and bloody sequences that feel very of-the-moment, yet look very similar to the films of the 70s and 80s, like The Terminator or RoboCop. The landscape driven cinematography isn’t quite as effective in Soldado, and Deacon’s missing visuals are what truly set the two films apart. Still, it’s a solid and deserving sequel. The biggest problem with the film lies in the last fifteen minutes, as it doesn’t quite know how to end and set itself up for further sequels. Matthew Modine’s role will take you out of the film, and Catherine Keener felt underused. The relationship between Del Toro and Brolin’s characters remains the driving force of the film, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here; no matter how this ends, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
If you’re looking for sand, blood and cactuses this summer, Soldado is your best bet. If this franchise continues, I know I will be crawling back for more.