Taylor Sheridan was a working actor who wrote the script for Sicario when he was 40 years old. Sicario, a story about the American war on drugs and the cartels in Mexico and South America that would subsequently make worldwide names from film director, Denis Villeneuve, Sheridan, and the cast of Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin. As well as earn Del Toro a well earned Oscar nomination.

Sheridan shelved the script after he was finished with it. Choosing instead to write a script that would be easier to sell. That script was the beyond brilliant Hell or High Water. Sheridan’s instincts developed from reading “10,000 not very good” scripts as an actor was serving him well. Sheridan’s career as a writer was just taking off as last year saw his directorial efforts on his script, become the universally acclaimed film, and criminally underrated, Wind River. Now, Sheridan has returned to those Mexican plans shot so beautifully by Villeneuve in Sicario: Day of the Soldado.

Day of the Soldado sees Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro reprise their roles as CIA operative, Matt Graver and assassin Alejandro Gillick in an operation to incite a war between the cartels. Right away, Sheridan’s instincts as an actor serve him well as he builds on the relationship between Gillick and Graver and their amoral work. It’s a story that builds on the already extremely strong character work from the original film and creating a narrative that naturally draws you in. it’s what I’ve always loved about Sheridan’s work as it’s the synthesis of filmmaking between great writing and brilliant acting. And between the relationship between Graver and Gillick is Isabel Reyes. The sixteen-year-old daughter of a drug kingpin that bonds with Gillick through memories of his own daughter. It’s through Isabel that we begin to see a rehabilitation of Alejandro.

If Del Toro was the stand out of the first Sicario. Isabela Moner’s performance as Isabel Reyes is the stand out in Day of the Soldado. For a young actor to invoke the kind of presence against Del Toro was a truly incredible character to watch.

At 50 and 51 years of age, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro show no signs of slowing down. Brolin, fresh of being the first villain in Marvel’s ten-year cinematic history to actually be memorable, brings a face to the amoral side of the American military that is a legitimately real performance. The nuances Brolin puts behind a look speaks to the man’s talent as much as it does watching him act against Del Toro.

Gillick is a man driven by revenge in the first film and Del Toro does an incredible job of expanding the complexity of Gillick through his relationship with Isabel. It’s these three that make up the core of a story that successfully balances antagonist and protagonist through these amoral characters.

Where Day of the Soldado falters is through Italian director Stefano Sollima’s European filmmaking to North American storytelling. The pacing in the second act falters a great deal for favor for some truly beautiful shots of our characters looking pensive as they deal with the weight of this world. But Sollima’s eye for tempo in the action in the frame is on par with action thriller directors like Paul Greengrass and more than makes up for any faults this film has.

Day of the Soldado does what most sequels fail to do and that’s live up to the first film. While not as good as the first Sicario, the film delivers in tension through some of the best actings and writing in an action thriller this year and well worth four out of five stars.

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