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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Sicario 2-Day of the Soldado, Review: Benicio and Josh raise the' False Flag' and kill at will

Sicario 2-Day of the Soldado, Review: Benicio and Josh raise the' False Flag' and kill at will

‘Soldado’ is Spanish for a soldier who fights for a cause. ‘Sicario’ was the name of those who resisted Roman colonial invaders, and that in Mexico, it means ‘hit-man’. And in Sicario (2): Day of the Soldado, the twain meet. The movie is not too different from Sicario (1), but different enough to hold its own. Overall, it is just a notch below its predecessor, yet in the same league. Drug cartels are at the core, again, as are the expeditions of American covert operatives dealing with the ruthless gangs in Mexico.

A suicide bombing in a Kansas City 7 Eleven outlet kills fifteen people. In response, the United States government gives CIA agent Matt Graver permission to use extreme measures to combat Mexican drug cartels, suspected of transporting Islamic terrorists across the border. Graver and the United States Department of Defense decide the best option is to start a war between the major cartels, and Graver recruits operative Alejandro Gillick for the mission.

Gillick is a cartel attorney whose entire family was wiped out by a rival cartel’s boss, Reyes, father of Isabela. In retaliation, Gillick kills a high-profile new lawyer of the cartel, and Graver and his team kidnap Isabela Reyes, the daughter of the kingpin of their rival, in a false flag operation. (A false flag is a covert operation designed to deceive; the deception creates the appearance of a particular party, group, or nation being responsible for some activity, disguising the actual source of responsibility, which could be another country; in this case, it is America).

Graver, Gillick, and their team take Isabela to Texas and stage a make believe "rescue" with the DEA and local police to make her think she was kidnapped by her father's enemies. Gillick, who had a deaf-mute daughter, since deceased, bonds with Isabela, and the team attempts to transport her back to Mexico, planning to leave her in territory controlled by her father's rivals, in order to further escalate the conflict. However, the Mexican Federal Police escort for their trip back across the border double-crosses them and attacks the American vehicles. Graver and his team are forced to kill dozens of corrupt Mexican policemen involved in the ambush. Isabela runs away amidst the chaos and Gillick goes after her alone.

Miguel is a Mexican-American teenager who is new to a gang transporting immigrants into the USA, and caught up between becoming a sicario in the dangerous world of the drug cartels and his desire to do what is right and not lose his humanity. Miguel recognises Gillick from a previous occasion when they had a face-off, in the United States. He alerts his boss, and Gillick and Isabela are captured.

With Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River, Sicario) writing, a lot of the ambience remains the same as the first outing. Starting a gang war to control drug trafficking and to exterminate drug-lords who allegedly finance anti-US terrorist organisations is not a brilliant concept and neither is it new. What would interest viewers are the sharply contrasting personae of the cast and painstaking detailing. Two such plot points deserve mention: the track of deaf-mutes and sign-language and the idea of having a 15-16 year old spoilt brat becoming the epicentre of the shooting sprees and bloodbaths. Some of the dialogue was lost because it was either mumbled or there must have been a technical issue, not to mention the accents. Just two casualties among the abductors, and only one of them fatal, with 1,000 bullets flying around, is a little hard to digest.

Stefano Sollima (Italian/Spanish; Sodom and Gomorrah, ACAB) who comes from Mafialand, Italy, does a fairly good job of keeping the screenplay on track. Scenes involving the Secretary of Defense and his assistant--the shooting of Gillick by Miguel, and Alejandro and Isabela’s rendezvous at the deaf-mute farmer--are particularly notable. But then there are a few scenes where he gets carried away, like the one-sided gun-battles and Alejandro’s recovery after a bullet is pumped into his face. It’s a well-crafted development, only Sollima gets indulgent. The entire track about Miguel and human-trafficking appears tangential at first, but jells at the end, paving the way for Sicario 3, which must be at the writing stage already.

Benicio del Toro (Benicio Monserrate Rafael del Toro Sánchez; Puerto Rican/Spanish; Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Sicario) as Alejandro Gillick is in his element, with the lost, enigmatic look in his eyes and soft dialogue delivery. His entry is in the James Bond mould, and every furrow on his for head adds to his charisma. Besides, he does remind you of Logan. Josh Brolin (Avengers, Deadpool 2, Sicario) as Matt Graver, CIA Special Activities Division officer, gets to act in a present-day film, after some great outings as the villain of superhero and science fiction movies. Of course, both must have had it all sorted out in their heads, having been part of Sicario 1. His deadpan style is in sharp contrast with booming echoes of the Thanos, and even as the camera pans from his feet to his shorts and his back, you know here is a man who is versatile and malleable actor.

Isabela Moner (actress-singer; now 17; The House That Jack Built, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, Transformers: The Last Knight) as Isabela Reyes is a good piece of casting as a spoilt brat with impulsive behavior. Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Birdy, Short Cuts) as Secretary of Defense, James Riley speaks the language of a government official in a convincing manner. Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, Capote, Incredibles 2) as Cynthia Foards, Riley’s assistant and co-ordinator of the mission, acquits herself well.

Also in the cast are:

Jeffrey Donovan as Steve Forsing

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Gallo

Shea Whigham as Andy Wheeldon

Elijah Rodriguez as Miguel Hernandez

Howard Ferguson Jr. as Troy

David Castaneda as Hector

Jacqueline Torres as Blandina

Raoul Trujillo as Rafael

Bruno Bichir as Angel

Jake Picking as Shawn

Hildur Guðnadóttir composed the score for the film, after collaborating with Jóhann Jóhannsson on the first film as cello soloist. She has her pulse on the theme. Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski maintains both, the copter shots and up close action that was seen in Sicario 1, in his camera-work.

Unfolding at an uneven pace, probably to explain things before the bangs for the buck are unleashed, Sicario (2): Day of the Soldad is still watchable, both as a sequel and a stand-alone vehicle. It has been given an R certificate, and justifiably so. There is too much blood and gore.

While Sicario was an adventure, Sicario 2 is darker, sub-texts about what defines a terrorist and is it fair to carry out ‘find and kidnap/kill’ operations on foreign soil, under the false flag cover. Moreover, it has very little humour.

Rating: ***


Excerpt from my review of Sicario (1)-2015

Sicario is a crime thriller with a difference. In the end, that difference falls short of excellence.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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