Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

By: Kevin Jordan

Whistling at dogs.

Note to readers: I have tried to keep politics out of my movie reviews, but when viewing Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the film’s politics are impossible to ignore given recent events.  Thus, it is impossible not to write about politics here.

A list of current events in the United States includes: (1) the White House, Justice Department, and Department of Homeland Security directing Border Patrol and ICE to commit human rights violations by separating migrant children from their families and then, losing track of those children (more than 2,000); (2) the Supreme Court upholding a travel ban that discriminates based on religious beliefs (despite the fully debunked national security claims, despite Trump’s own words and previous attempts that clearly show the ban is solely based on banning Muslims, and despite every lower court ruling the ban unconstitutional and lacking evidence supporting a national defense claim); and (3) Trump calling for ending due process rights for immigrants – another example of Trump attacking constitutional rights.  Enter the new film Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which puts those issues into its mouth, chews them up, and spits the resulting ball into your hand like a five-year old who mistakenly thinks the resulting wad is awesome.

Maybe we should try manning border checkpoints to process immigrants.

(SPOILERS to discuss plot points because the First Amendment is still a thing.)

Right off the bat, the film rubbed me (and my friend) the wrong way.  The film opens by depicting myths that insist countless terrorists are entering the United States illegally via the Mexican border, which serves to demonize both Mexicans and Muslims in one fell swoop.  This myth has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked (for details, you can start here, here, or here), and, while the idea should be a concern when vetting immigrants (illegal or otherwise), the number of immigrants discovered with suspected terrorist ties over the past several decades is infinitesimal.  Put another way, crossing illegally via the US-Mexico border is arguably the worst way to get into the United States.

The opening sequence of the film depicts suicide bombers detonating themselves in a Kansas City grocery store and another bomber detonating himself at the border rather than be captured by ICE.  Cut to agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) interrogating a just-captured Somali pirate, demanding to know who helped smuggle the terrorists through Mexico and into the United States.  Addressing the due process rights issue, Graver threatens to call in an air strike on the pirate’s home (noting that the pirate’s brother is there) if the pirate does not answer Graver’s question.  The pirate tells Graver he thinks Graver is bluffing and Graver responds with “we are in Africa.  I can do whatever the fuck I want,” then, proves it by ordering the strike.  Not only did Graver piss all over due process for everyone killed in the strike, but he committed a war crime.  After threatening more of the pirate’s family members, the pirate reveals that a Mexican drug cartel leader, Carlos Reyes, is responsible for the smuggling.  The New York Times addressed why this is not a thing, but this movie is committed to depicting fairy tales.  So, the next logical question is – is there a princess involved?

Do people really believe that I, a 13-year old girl, am a rapist? Seriously?

Funny you should ask that.  Not only is there a princess, Graver literally uses the terms “king” and “prince” when describing his plan to attack the cartels to the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine).  He wants to kidnap Reyes’ daughter, Isabela (Isabela Moner), but make it look like a rival cartel kidnapped her in order to start a war between the cartels.  Since this plan is obviously wildly illegal, it must be done off the books and fits perfectly into what this movie is selling.  Mythical problems require drastic solutions.

Putting the political stuff aside for the moment, the plot and premise are solid for a fictional movie and are executed well for the first two acts of the movie.  Graver is menacing and soulless in the execution of his duty as a soldier and Brolin nails this role.  His superior, Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener), is also a soulless government ghoul, one-upping Graver by ordering him to kill Isabela after the mission goes awry (not a spoiler; this is literally shown in the previews).  Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) is there as well because this is a sequel to Sicario, not Pacific Rim, and working with Graver until Gillick’s murder is also ordered by Foards.  Moner does a good job making scared faces and screaming, but Isabela is given no character development and is little more than a prop, both literally and figuratively.

By the end of the second act, the movie had mostly removed the bitter political taste, but then the third act happens.  As mentioned earlier, Graver’s plan is wrecked when their Mexican military escort turns their guns on the Americans in the convoy.  The Americans kill all of the Mexicans and escape back to the US, but Gillick remains behind to track down Isabela, who ran off during the fight.  Gillick finds her, calls Graver for an extraction plan, but learns about Foards order to kill them (still no spoilers because whomever made and approved the preview are jerks).  You would be forgiven for thinking this sets up a showdown between Graver and Gillick.  It does not.  At this point, the film just quits on itself.

Did we lose another kid?

My friend summed it up nicely, saying “it came off like they had no idea how to end the story.”  For starters, the order to kill Isabela and Gillick only makes sense if you turn off your brain.  Isabela only knows that she was kidnapped and rescued, which was completely by design, and Gillick is as trustworthy as Graver.  Why not just send Isabela home and bring in Gillick?  Second, no kind of showdown ever happens, which is maddening because that is the main hook in the preview.  Finally, none of the plot lines are closed out, leaving the audience completely unsatisfied and with plenty of unanswered questions.  Did the two cartels go to war?  Are there repercussions for the botched plan that left a lot of dead Mexicans, including soldiers and police?  Are terrorists still being smuggled across the border by the cartels?  Did DHS and ICE really lose more than 2,000 children and have to be shamed into giving a shit?  So.  Many.  Questions.

As a whole, Day of the Soldado is an uneven film with good acting, mediocre writing, and bad politics.  To be fair, the film tosses a bone to the left when the President is referred to as a coward, but this film is largely an anti-immigration, propaganda wet-dream, complete with a child being forcibly separated from her parents by American officials (quite the accidental coincidence).  Her father may be a drug-lord, and if the President is to be believed, all Mexicans are drug-lords (or something), so everything is okay.  Also, this is not okay.

Rating: Ask for six dollars back and tune out the dog-whistles.

Everest

By: Kevin Jordan

Don’t go up there.

EVEREST One Sheet - Color

There are some risks that I am willing to take – watching the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie, trying my friend’s latest red chile, using the bathroom after my brother after he ate that red chile.  Then, there are risks that I won’t take – watching the latest Melissa McCarthy movie, trying my wife’s latest quiche, using the bathroom after my wife ate that quiche (just kidding – love you!).  But there also are risks that nobody should take and that list begins with climbing Mount Everest (it ends with using the bathroom after Gary Busey, ever).

At one point during Everest, one of the characters (Michael Kelly) ask the rest of the team why they are climbing Mount Everest.  It’s a very interesting question, and the movie does pretty much everything it can to avoid having its characters answer it.  It’s hard to blame the writers, though, because there is pretty much only one reason – narcissism – and that makes it harder for the audience to sympathize with characters.  There is no monetary or physical reward and since it’s been done before, nobody is going to make a big deal out of it or remember that you did it outside of people who already know you.  So, the only thing you get out of it is bragging rights and $65,000 less in your bank account.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an amazing physical achievement, but then so is the ability to eat sixty-nine hot dogs in ten minutes (which is also on the list of risks you should never take).

Everest is based on an event that happened in 1996 when several teams of climbers tried to summit Mount Everest at the same time.  The film focuses on two groups, one led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and the other led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), that end up teaming together for their final ascent, but meeting with disaster.  Now, before you get all huffy about spoilers, I promise I won’t tell you who lives or dies.  I purposely avoided watching previews and reading anything about the actual event for that same reason.  But, if going into this film you aren’t expecting some of them to die, you should know the movie begins by telling the audience that one out of four people who try to climb Everest die.  In other words, you will spend the movie trying to guess which of them will become corpsicles.  In case you think I’m being glib, it’s 100% true that the bodies of people who die while climbing Mount Everest are left there.  As Hall puts it during an early briefing to his team, “your body will literally be dying” as you try to climb.  There is simply no way the living can drag bodies down without dying themselves.

Since there’s nothing more to the plot than that, let’s go back to that WHY question for a moment.  Among Hall’s team who kinda, sorta answer the question are:

  • Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) – a rich Texan who says he only feels alive when he is climbing and not when he is with his wife and kids. If there is one character in this movie you won’t sympathize with, it’s him.
  • Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) – an ordinary man who works multiple mundane jobs to make ends meet. He says he is doing it to show a classroom full of kids that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.  This is one of those times when kids should heed the advice, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  In other words, achieve extraordinary things, but some of you will definitely die if you try to climb Everest.
  • Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) – a Japanese woman who has climbed to the highest point on every continent except Asia. She is the ultimate hoarder, er…collector.

As you can see, it’s a little difficult to root for any of those people, even Doug because this is his second shot at it (I’m sorry, but he’s not just doing it for the kids at this point).  That leaves us with Fischer and Hall, both of whom lead expeditions as their business.  On one hand we have Fischer, who previously worked with Hall, but broke off on his own.  He’s a great climber, but he drinks and takes unnecessary risks in the worst possible place to do either, so he’s out.  On the other hand we have Hall.  He has a pregnant wife at home (Keira Knightley) and is considered the best in the business.  But he has a fatal flaw in that he’s a little too nice – covering people’s satellite phone expenses and not forcing clients to turn around when he absolutely knows better.  You can forgive him for the first one, but the second one can get people killed.  If not for the pregnant wife, it would be hard to root for him as well.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, not answering the WHY question is the biggest problem with this film.  But, the good news is that everything else about the movie is very good.  The pacing is done very well as the movie slowly moves us closer and closer to the final ascent and descent by precluding it with scenes of the climbers acclimating to the environment (or not, in some of their cases).  It builds good relationships between the characters and does an exceptional job of not giving obvious hints as to who doesn’t make it back down.  Even better, the special effects are top notch and the views we see are amazing.  It’s definitely worth a viewing on the Imax, though without the 3-D if you can find it (unless you are sitting just right, 3-D loses the depth that this movie is touting).

When we walked out of the theater, some people were crying but I wasn’t one of them.  Like I said, I think it’s an amazing feat, but I’m not going to feel bad for anyone who dies trying to do something so hilariously dangerous when the only benefit is their name on a plaque.  At least the hot dog guys win a prize for their achievement and the next people to try it don’t have to step over their frozen bodies.

Rating: Despite the tone of this review, I do think it was a pretty good movie and that you should only ask for the 3-D surcharge money back.