• ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ (2018)

    Some missions need an assassin – others need a soldier

    - Publicity

    A sequel to 2015’s superb story of personal revenge mixed with geopolitics set against the background of the US-Mexico drug and illegal immigration war was not required but has nevertheless arrived, again written by Taylor Sheridan but directed by Stefano Sollima rather than Denis Villeneuve. It begins with a twist on the people-smuggling theme of its predecessor that is as original and audacious as that film’s core plot point and is sufficiently rich with potential to carry proceedings on its own. Sadly, this promise is discarded quite quickly in favour of layer upon layer of additional ideas that eventually create confusion and implausibility in equal measure.

    Those opening scenes, as a new threat depressingly familiar to those in contemporary Europe slips into America under cover of an old one, are viscerally shocking and upsetting and set the tone for the first, strongest section of the film. They lead to a government cabinet member calling for action and bending the definitional rules to allow it, in turn releasing returning protagonist Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to act as the deniable instrument of state that such an order requires.

    A ‘shopping’ sequence as Graver matter-of-factly enacts his master’s wish is coldly stripped-down yet utterly compelling; the casual diner conversation between him and what appears to be a private military contractor over equipment and prices recalls the workaday realism of Steven Soderberg’s Haywire (2011), whilst the cynicism surrounding the next steps Graver takes is breathtaking. Here, one is watching a sequel that is worthy of comparison to the original yet takes it in a different direction, even if the occasional line of dialogue and thus crucial plot detail is lost to too-casual delivery and a downbeat audio mix.

    Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) also returns as a partner – or perhaps weapon – in this venture, which we now learn links to his motivation in Sicario. Again, though, this is unclear since the cartel boss is different in each case and the connection between them is only loosely alluded to. Since this particular storyline goes nowhere one could argue it doesn’t matter.

    The assassination and kidnap actions that follow are competently staged by Sollima in what is now the default filmic style of the 2000s – sharp, sudden and serious, with none of the flashiness that characterised product from the previous decade let alone the flamboyance of the 1980s. Isabela Moner, as old as the century more or less, impresses as Isabela Reyes, convincingly essaying a spoiled schoolgirl who is queen of her milieu one minute and a terrified victim of something much larger another.

    It is though here where I began to part company from the material. Geography began to feel ill-defined, with uncertainty over precisely who was where or heading to what and why, and small moments seemed lost, missed or undeveloped.

    Yes, a speeding convoy in a forbidding desert attempting the next move in a false flag operation is nicely handled with a growing sense of unease – “I hate dirt roads,” growls Graver as his airborne assistance begins to be compromised by dust – and the firefight that follows is snappy and brutal, but exactly who is attacking, how and from where remains unexplained and the editing of what happens now and immediately afterward leaves much to be desired if clarity is wanted.

    When Isabella and Alejandro are cast adrift on a quest of their own this dislocation is intensified, whilst things also become annoyingly sentimental if sometimes also affecting. Convenient co-incidence appears, surely unnecessary when a writer is so clearly gifted as Sheridan. That this returns repeatedly, especially in relation to a parallel storyline about young Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), soon becomes grating in the extreme.

    Having the rug pulled from under Graver and Alejendro decisively shifts perception of the overall source for the film – Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger, also about a biddable yet cowardly politician spurred by an act of moral outrage – from obvious but acceptable homage to lazy derivation. And unlike Phillip Noyce’s 1994 film adaptation, which took pains to depict a realistic timescale for the reversal, here everything is rushed to the point of risibility. The film is thus simultaneously overlong and uncomfortably hurried – a television series would have given this approach room to breath.

    The finale insults the viewer twice, first with more sentimentality and then by replacing the weary inevitability recognisably of the real world that ended the first film with a crude hook for a ‘threequel’. Given the present instalment can best be summarised as occasionally gripping but ultimately maddening, it won’t be one I will be experiencing.

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Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Click blog images to expand; pre-Sept 2011 posts here

L

Chris is one of more than a dozen specialists whose essays fill this fresh examination of the charms of Paris, which is edited by John Flower. Looking at the French capital's history, culture and districts, each item can be read in just half a minute and is beautifully illustrated with its own full-colour collage-style spread.

The Ivy Press, 2018

Hardback, 160 pages | ISBN 9781782405443

£14.99

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