Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button

Feature

313 8600
In the drug war, there are no rules – and, as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border, federal agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) calls on the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), whose family was murdered by a cartel kingpin, to escalate the war in nefarious ways. Alejandro kidnaps the kingpin’s daughter to inflame the conflict – but, when the girl is seen as collateral damage, her fate will come between the two men as they question everything they are fighting for. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

 Sicaro: Day of the Soldado
This is another late-arriving screener, so excuse the tardiness of my review. That said, since the time I requested a screener from the studio, I had always been planning to do something different with this review. Sicario: Day of the Soldado is the unlikely sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s moody Mexican border shocker, Sicario. Villeneuve’s film didn’t require a sequel, especially not one made without the main character, FBI special agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), whose failed attempts at moralizing the complex ambiguity of the War on Drugs was the entire point of the story. As a follow-up, the morally apathetic (verging on reprehensible) Day of the Soldado is such a supreme failure that it’s almost pointless to compare the two movies. Let us instead view this film as a generational follow-up that connects the careers of father and son filmmakers.

Day of Soldado is the English language debut of Italian director Stefano Sollima. Stefano is the son of the late Sergio Sollima, who made various genre films from the early ‘60s through the late ‘90s. He is probably best known for his politically-charged, tonally dark poliziotteschi thrillers – two of which, Violent City (Italian: Città violenta, 1970) and Revolver (aka: Blood in the Streets, 1973), gained international acclaim and helped broaden the appeal of the rough ‘n tumble Eurocrime movement. In turn, Stefano’s theatrical and television career has been almost entirely exemplified by gritty crime movies/series, including ACAB – All Cops Are Bastards (2012), Suburra (2015), and several season one & two episodes of Gomorra (2014-2016). Success in this arena obviously explains why he was hired to take on the Sicario franchise. However, I’d rather compare Day of Soldado to another series of Sergio Sollima films – his left-leaning spaghetti westerns.

 Sicaro: Day of the Soldado
Along with Damiano Damiani, Sergio Sollima started a subset of Italian westerns that used genre traditions as a basis for social allegories. While Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci’s earlier films established a political slant, they were more concerned with paying homage to the genre and recontextualizing it on a stylistic level. Damiani and Sollima then took the newly established spaghetti formulae and concocted a more firmly progressive ‘Zapata western’ subgenre with Damiani’s Bullet for the General (Italian: El Chuncho, Quien Sabe?) and Sollima’s The Big Gundown (Italian: La Resa dei Conti), which were released a couple of months apart in 1966. Named for famed revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata, who stood alongside Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco, Zapata westerns were set during the Mexican Revolution and utilized the conflict as an allegory for then-modern Italian social struggles.

This new formula had some loose-fitting rules throughout its brief run (after which time, the poliziotteschi quickly took over). Each film is rooted in the success of Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965) – a prototypical master & apprentice spaghetti western that implemented a dual protagonist structure. In that film, Lee Van Cleef plays an older, wiser bounty hunter and is fodder to Clint Eastwood’s younger, more sardonic gunslinger. Both are after the same quarry and begin the film as rivals, before joining forces. Van Cleef’s portrayal was so popular that it became a stock character for him throughout the spaghetti western’s reign, including similar appearances in Giulio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse (1967), Tonino Valerii’s Day of Anger (also 1967), and The Big Gundown, where he was joined by an even younger, brasher Mexican bandit played by Cuban actor Tomás Milián (who later appeared as a corrupt general alongside del Toro in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, 1999). Milián (along with Bullet for the General’s Gian Maria Volontè) established a version of the apprentice role that hid his moral and emotional confusion beneath the façade of a clownish, carefree bandit or fool, if we’re exploring this from the standpoint of the most classic literary tropes. In the best Zapata westerns, the protagonists challenge each other, ensuring that the American/European (gringo) outsider is aware of his sins as an imperialist collaborator and awakening a sense of revolutionary patriotism in the Mexican-born bandit.

 Sicaro: Day of the Soldado
Sollima eventually made an official sequel to The Big Gundown called Run, Man, Run (Italian: Corri uomo corri, 1968), but, for the sake of shortening this already very long appraisal/comparison, I’d like to focus on The Big Gundown and his second western, Face to Face (Italian: Faccia a faccia, 1967). It had only been a year since The Big Gundown’s release, yet Sollima was already subverting the character template. This time, an anarchist bandit gang leader (Milián again) kidnaps a liberal college professor (Volontè), who slowly begins to identify with his captors and eventually usurps the leader and institutes a far crueler regime. The Civil War was the backdrop and the major characters are meant to be white Americans, but the sentiment is similar and arguably more straight-forward.

I’ll admit that Day of Soldado doesn’t fit the Sollima Zapata puzzle as neatly as I want it to. In a way, the lack of compatibility is tied to the film’s failure as a compelling sequel – especially when we take the original Sicario into account. This isn’t to say that not adhering to my arbitrary comparison is necessary; only that the two things are not mutually exclusive. You see, in Villeneuve’s film, Emily Blunt’s character is effectively an apprentice to an older, wiser, and grievously jaded federal agent and a similarly weary victim of cartel violence. Ideally, she’d again be the centerpiece of the sequel, where her newfound insight into the futility of the War on Drugs could take her on a Face to Face-esque journey from idealist to savage authoritarian. Still, there are intriguing connections between Sollima Sr.’s formula and Sollima Jr.’s seemingly accidental adaptation of that formula, especially if you approach it as the right-wing reactionary equivalent to an extremely left-wing movement. Brolin’s federal scumbag is a proper modern equivalent to the Zapata gringo protagonist in that he represents the American/European interference and influence. And it’s not just his lack of cowboy hat that makes him a modern version – it’s the fact that, unlike those ‘60s Italian gringos, he isn’t a lone wolf directly profiting from his interference. Instead, he’s a cog in a machine that benefits corporate interests, who, like his counterparts, purposefully ignores the cost of his actions by dehumanizing the people he is exploiting. Del Toro’s character is far too serious and emotionally damaged to fit the fool template, but his weary outlook on his country’s political climate and strained effort to act selfishly does match the actions of the many jaded Zapata western bandits who are tricked or forced into revolutionary roles.

 Sicaro: Day of the Soldado
The comparisons fall apart pretty quickly, though, because this is a sequel and it centers on these characters reuniting and escalating their relationship, rather than really redefining it. Brolin is disenfranchised with his government, but not because he has any revelations about their meddlesome self-interests. He’s actually disappointed when his superiors opt to stop interfering and angry that they reprimand him for murdering a bunch of Mexican cops. Del Toro has a slight character arc from the last film in that he chooses to protect the daughter of his mortal enemy, but it isn’t as if he’s learning some greater truth about criminal empires and the societies they victimize. Really, she’s a charming girl who reminds him of his daughter. Perhaps if more Zapata westerns had sequels ( Run, Man, Run is the only one I know of), we’d have seen the likes of Milián, Volontè, Van Cleef, and Franco Nero teaming up with plucky teenage daughters of criminal generals. I’d certainly like to see that. Instead, I’m left with a movie that pretends to tell the unvarnished truth about brutal, senseless border wars, but is too mealy-mouthed and weirdly devoted to a thematic status quo to say much of anything meaningful about the situation.

Video


Sicario: Day of Soldado was shot using Arri Alexa Mini & XT digital cameras and is presented in 1080p, 2:40:1 on this Blu-ray release. Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski certainly shoot a pretty movie and this transfer sells the grandeur of their rich, yet muted and moodily-lit palette. The image is almost always dim – dimmer than you’d ever see in the middle of the day on the Mexican border – but never overly dark or difficult to parse. Blacks are deep without completely crushing variations and details are sharp enough to ensure fine lines and highlights stand out. The digital format offers typically soft blends and smooth out the edges of out-of-focus objects; both of which are neatly preserved and exhibit only minor banding issues. Compression artefacts are limited to this and occasional noise during nighttime scenes. Other problems, such as slight haloes, appear to be chromatic aberration effects and is probably related to lens choices.

 Sicaro: Day of the Soldado

Audio


This disc features a potent and punchy DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack with mixed English and Spanish language dialogue (naturally). The sound design rarely resorts to aural onslaughts, even during its shootouts and car crashes, but it does lean into heavy dynamic ranges. It’s all stylized and directionally enhanced, yet it feels very authentic to the situation. For example, gunshots, helicopter blades, and car engines are all especially loud in order to hammer home the danger they represent. The negative side effect is that some of the dialogue is a bit too quiet, which is a problem when you’re dealing with particularly mumbly actors, like Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro. Cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir returned as a composer and offers more driving, eerie compositions that fit the movie, despite also being at home in a horror film. At best, these droning compositions build into throbbingly intense underscores that helps sell the dread of the action scenes.

Extras


[list][*] From Film to Franchise: Continuing the Story (8:26, HD) – A completely fluffy EPK with the cast & crew talking about the development of the sequel.
[*] An Act of War: Making Sicario: Day of the Soldado (15:34, HD) – A slightly more informative look behind-the-scenes that is ultimately still an extended ad for the movie.
[*] The Assassin and the Soldier: The Cast & Characters (14:04, HD) – More of the same, but focusing on the cast members.

 Sicaro: Day of the Soldado

Overall


I hope that this review was an interesting read and that the alternate perspective on this well-made, beautifully choreographed, ultimately slightly abhorrent, and unoriginal movie will convince a couple of you to look into the Zapata western subgenre. For those that were only interested in the quality of this Blu-ray, rest assured that it looks and sounds fantastic – just about as good as we can expect from the format. The extras aren’t particularly impressive, though.

 Sicaro: Day of the Soldado

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: