Sicario Day of the Soldado Explained and Reviewed
Sicario Day of the Soldado is the second of three movies and should be reviewed as such... IMDB
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Taylor Sheridan is an animal. With Sicario, Hell or High Water, Wind River, and now Sicario Day of the Soldado under his belt, he is a proven screenwriter with the ability to write for truly compelling characters in extreme situations. The original Sicario was so good, and with so many crazy twists and turns, that over a half million people have swung through to learn more about the movie since I wrote that post. But compared to Day of the Soldado, Sicario is a romper room visit. Here is what Sheridan had to say about writing the sequel:

“When I told them I would write it, they asked for the traditional studio call and the outline and all that, and I said, “No, no, no, guys. The first one was original. I’m just going to go away and I’m going to come back with it and there you go.” And they trusted me to do that, and then read it and were like, “Ah, shit. We’re in a lot of trouble.” It makes the first one look like a comedy. Yeah. I’m not the guy to ask to write a sequel.”

But the big secret about Day of the Soldado? It’s not a sequel – it’s the second movie in a trilogy. I guarantee it. And no, the third movie hasn’t been announced yet. But it doesn’t need to be. This is a fact. And I expect someone to come back and give me props when it’s finally announced officially. And this one detail by itself probably should be enough to help you understand this movie if it confused you. But if that doesn’t help, join me, and we can walk through it together.

Quick Spoiler Free Overview of Sicario Day of the Soldado

If you can’t remember the original Sicario – maybe you should read back through my original Sicario write up to refresh yourself. Or, better yet? Rewatch the original. But basically, the original Sicario was all about the worsening drug violence happening on the USA/Mexico border. And when Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an idealistic FBI agent, falls into a rabbit hole of chaos after hunting down the people responsible for bombing members of her team. And that movie ends with Kate staring down the barrel of a gun pointed at Alejandro, the Sicario, and all of you collectively wondering why?!?

Sicario Day of the Soldado takes the Sicario universe, adds rat poison, puts it in a tumbler and shakes.

Taylor Sheridan has said that if Sicario is a “film about the militarization of police and that blending over, this is removing the policing aspect from it.” But it is also about the removal of the oversight as well. It’s all about what would happen with that same group of people if the parental controls went away. Which, sort of leaves me shaking my head really. But that it does. So Day of the Soldado really is about an escalation of an already escalated drug war from the original film, and it’s 100% about the government’s response to that escalation. Think about this, what could the American government do if the drug cartels were added to the list of terrorist organizations. If the USA began to see Mexican cartels as a brand of terrorist organization? How would that escalation look? Yeah, it’d look something like this:

If you wandered in here trying to figure out what the heck you just watched, you’ve come to the right place. Or heck, if you just want to discuss it? Even better. But know this, from here on out, this post is 100% going to be filled with spoilers. Warning enough for you? Seriously… make sure you swing by the cinema and watch Day of the Soldado before you read further down this post.

High Level Spoiler Overview of Sicario Day of the Soldado

Before we go too far, let’s get a couple definitions out of the way. The first is the definition of a Sicario, which is a drug cartel’s hitman. The second? Soldado… which means soldier. So, just from the title alone, we know that it means, “Hitman: Day of the Soldier.” Alright, that’s step one.

Step two? We need to remember, that Alejandro Gillick (played by Benicio del Toro) worked for the Medellín Cartel. And that he was hired specifically to assassinate the Sonora Cartel’s elusive drug lord Fausto Alarcón. But that went all kinds of sideways when Alarcón had Alejandro’s family boiled in acid. (Which, is why Alejandro and Kate had such an interesting relationship, due to the fact that Kate reminded Alejandro of his own daughter. Right? Coming back to you now?) So Alejandro, HATES the drug cartels. And in Sicario, Alejandro got his chance to assassinate Alarcón. But he also specifically hates the Medellín Cartel, who put out a hit on him after his failed attempt to murder Alarcón originally.

So when the drug cartels begin helping to smuggle ISIS terrorists across the border the U.S. government starts taking notice. And when those suicide bombers kill border patrol police via suicide bombings, and then later at a “Massive” big box store, the government shifts into high alert. (Can I say here that suicide bombing scenes  were some of the most compelling scenes of the entire movie. To witness, first hand, suicide bombers methodically working to create maximum carnage, is truly mind blowing. And these scenes are the beginning of our rat poison tumble.)

The American government specifically gives the CIA and agent Matt Graver permission to do anything, and everything, to combat this new wave of threats coming from the Mexican drug cartels. And it is Graver, and the Department of Defense (DOD), that decide the best way to do that is to start a war between the cartels. And to do that, the best way was to kidnap Isabel Reyes, the daughter of Carlos Reyes, the leader of the Reyes family Cartel. The DOD’s goal was to conduct a false flag operation and pin the blame on a competing cartel, the Matamoros family. Got it? Simple enough? And to pull off the kidnapping Graver enlists Alejandro to do the job.

Sicario is All About Alejandro’s Motivations

It may not be 100% clear to the average viewer, but the entire Sicario universe is about Alejandro and his motivations for revenge. Really that, and nothing else. But who should Alejandro be exacting his revenge against? Well, in Sicario Uno (see what I did there? That was some serious Spanish savviness right there) Alejandro went after Alarcón, because he was the one that gave the order to kill him and his family. But in Day of the Soldado, we learn that it was actually Carlos Reyes that ordered Alarcón to murder his family. And later on in Soldado, we learn that the trail actually goes one layer deeper even than Reyes… but we’ll get to that soon enough. But for Soldado, the goal and the point of the movie is Reyes, and that begins with Reyes’ daughter, Isabel.

The False Flag Operation Goes Pear Shaped

After successfully kidnapping Isabel, Graver and team stage a fake rescue. Get it? Gillick kidnaps Isabel Reyes, making her and a few witnesses think that it was competitor Matamoros doing the kidnapping. Right? Then Gillick and Graver stage a rescue from … um, themselves. But it is all staged to make Isabel believe she was kidnapped by Matamoros and then saved by United States agents. Yes, it’s a little confusing. But you need to grasp that switchback thoroughly or the rest of this movie isn’t going to make any sense. Now, after the “rescue”, they decide they are going to deliver her deep into her father’s territory in order to make certain she is safe. (Why they didn’t chopper her in is beyond me… but whatever.) At the border, Graver and Gillick’s team of Humvees are met by a Mexican police escort. But without any warning, the Mexican police open fire on Graver’s team, leaving them no choice but to fight their way out and kill dozens of Mexican police officers. Meanwhile, Isabel, flees on foot and disappears. And it is Alejandro Gillick that volunteers to track her down.

Upon returning safely to America, Graver learns that the suicide bombers, in fact, did not come from Mexico. Not only that? But the optics of the U.S. government killing dozens of official Mexican Federal Police officers doesn’t go over well in the news and throughout the upper echelons of the U.S. and Mexican government. And so, it is decided by Cynthia Foards, that both Isabel and Alejandro need to die, along with all traces of American involvement. It is necessary, the President believes, that Graver and Foards should mop this entire thing up, and eradicate any evidence that might lead back to them and what they were trying to do.

When Alejandro catches up with Isabel, he rescues her from one of the rogue Mexican Police officers, and they decide their only way to get back to America is by going through a mule escort. It so happens, that Miguel, who we’ve seen getting mentored into this life as the movie progresses will become a very important person soon in the Sicario universe. He had happened to have seen Gillick and Graver state-side, and knew that they were cops. So when he happens to see Gillick again with Isabel, he tips his new “friends” and they decide that he is going to have to die. When ordered to kill the recognized cop, Miguel shoots him in the face, and Alejandro is assumed dead. But later, Miguel regrets what he has done, and jumps out of the truck and heads off on his own.

Meanwhile Graver, tracking Isabel through a GPS attached to her, swoops in, kills the Mexican men that have her, and grabs her. He is supposed to kill Isabel, but instead, he decides to put her in the witness protection program. A little while later, Gillick wakes up, breaks from of his bound hands and takes the Mexican truck, and heads for the border. A year later, Miguel, obviously not the same kid he was a year before, heads into his job, where he finds Gillick. Gillick says, “so you want to be a Sicario?”, and closes the door.

The Details You Probably Missed in Sicario the Day of the Soldado

As I said at the opening of this walkthrough – everything starts to make more sense, when you realize that when Taylor Sheridan was asked to write a sequel for his stand alone movie, he didn’t write a sequel, he wrote a second movie in a trilogy. How do we know? Well, it’s all right there in the script staring you in the face. As the movie progresses it talks through the making of Alejandro. Foards tells Graver that we made Gillick, they can make another one. There are plenty of grieving fathers in Mexico that would be happy to lend a hand. But Graver? His response is telling. He tells Foards that no, they won’t be able to create another like Gillick. And he hints that while Alarcón was the one to actually kill Alejandro’s family, and it was Carlos Reyes who ordered Alarcón to do it, it was actually the American Government, at some level, that ordered Reyes to put the hit out on Alejandro. Did you catch that?

Remember, the entirety of the Sicario universe is totally 100% all about Alejandro and his motivations for revenge. We already know, because he told Isabel, that her father was involved in the killing of his deaf daughter and wife. Why is that important? Well, I don’t know if you noticed or not, but Reyes didn’t die in this movie. In fact, we didn’t even meet Reyes in this movie. Which means the story isn’t over yet. Better yet?? I believe we will find out that Graver, Foards and someone else significant in the U.S. food chain was involved in the hit going out on Alejandro’s family. And they too will fall into his sights as he learns of the real truth. Never mind the fact that Graver left Alejandro high and dry to die on his own in Day of the Soldado. For that alone he deserves to meet Sicario in a deserted street.

Also, remember the discussion about the ease with which the government can create their own Sicarios? We get to witness this first hand with Alejandro bringing on Miguel who now owes him a life debt after shooting him in the face. As the movie is ending, Alejandro is closing the door on the Day of the Soldado, and opening a new one for Miguel. You don’t open new threads as the movie is closing unless you are making a follow up movie to close those threads down.

What Will Sicario 3 Look Like?

I think I have spelled most of it out for you, but for the duller tools in the toolshed amongst us, I’ll write it in neon for you. I believe that Sicario 3 will be completely about Alejandro’s revenge. It’ll start with revenge against Reyes. It might include Isabel years later – who has decided her life in the witness protection program is trashed because of him. And she’s determined to help Alejandro out. It will also include Miguel, Gillick’s new Sicario assistant. The three of them, using their insider knowledge will roll through the Reyes family quickly at the opening of the movie.

As the movie continues, I’m sure that the government will get wind of what is happening and will try and protect the most obvious American assets that were involved. They may even activate Graver officially to take out Gillick as an annoying remaining thread. But Gillick will have been planning this latest revenge for a while. And he will take out Foards, Graver, and whoever else may have put out the call on Gillick’s family originally. Don’t believe me? I bet you 1 Starbucks gift card (up to a five dollar value, not valid in all 50 states, terms and conditions apply, only the first three claimants may receive the prize) that I am at least 90% right. Isabel might not be involved. It might not go any higher than Foards. But all the rest I am sure of.

My Thoughts on Day of the Soldado

Sheridan made an amazing movie when he crafted Sicario originally. It helped that he had an amazing director in Denis Villeneuve to create his movie. (If you are unfamiliar with Denis, oh, my gosh. Oh I don’t know, maybe Incendies? Oh and Blade Runner 2049, Enemy, Arrival, etc etc. Holy cow good.) And when I found out that Denis wasn’t attached to Sicario 2 I was thoroughly bummed. Just immediately take the peg out of the Ultrastellar Amazingness slot, and move it down to Really Ok! instead. Also, add into the fact that this is a middle movie in a trilogy… and the only movie series that made the middle movie the best one of the three was the original Star Wars. Can you think of any others? No, I can’t either. So there is that going on here too.

But most importantly, Taylor Sheridan juxtaposed innocent Kate Macer with the horrifically troubled Alejandro. He is willing to do absolutely anything to get his revenge, and she is just gobsmacked throughout as a result. It is one amazing character epiphany after another.  And in Day of the Soldado we have nothing like that. We don’t even have a bad guy to chase. We don’t even meet Reyes. It’s just one pear shaped operation after another. But I do believe – knowing what I know about Taylor Sheridan, and his writing abilities – that the entirety of the series, Sicario 1, 2, and 3, will be an amazing mind blowing trilogy when it is done. It’s just that we are currently caught half way to the net right now.

Yes, though, I thought the acting well done. You can never go wrong with Benicio del Toro. Isabel (Isabela Moner) was fantastic and really put me in her shoes and envisioning the horrors happening around her constantly. Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez) probably was the only key actor that was a bit lack luster. But over all the acting was great. I also thought the story, and its underpinnings in reality today was prescient. The Cartels as terrorist organizations and Trump’s fixation on MS-13 just seems way way too eerily on target. And the action was mind blowing. The suicide bombings at the start were like the border crossing scene in Sicario 1. Just so big, and so unbelievable as to be believable. Never mind the fact that this is reality for the world today.

So, all that to say, that although its the second movie in a trilogy, and by far and away, incomplete as a total project… I enjoyed it. But we are going to need another Kate in episode 3 in order to right this ship completely. Who knows, we may get that in an older Isabel. But for episode 2, our Sicario was fueled enough to propel this particular movie forward while the rest of the chess pieces finish moving across the board to where they need to be.

I don’t know – what did you think of it?

Edited by: CY

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8 Responses

  1. Allan Nielsen

    Great analysis. I thought DoS lacked the humanity of the first. I believe the third movie will show the circularity of violence and the war on drugs. It will end with Alejandros revenge, and realizing that the great enemy is the USA and human nature itself… Not so much a revenge story, as a tragedy.

  2. Hank

    Interesting analysis. Agree with most of it, though I think you stretch things a little extrapolating from Graver’s & Foard’s conversation to conclude they had Alejandro’s family killed. I re-watched that scene several times and while I agree the dialogue leaves open that interpretation, don’t agree that it suggests that interpretation. But we’ll see (hopefully).

    And where did you get the interpretation that the Medellin ordered a hit on Alejandro, or that Alejandro was a hit man ordered to kill Reyes before his family was murdered? I never picked up either of those things in either movie? Interested to learn what I missed.

    It actually seems like if the US were involved in a set-up to kill Alejandro’s family, it would more likely be through the Medellin cartel, not through Reyes. (ie: Medellin plant disinformation that Alejandro has done something that merits punishment, then, when he seeks revenge for that punishment, offer him a job as a Medellin hitman). Recall in Sicario, Graver alludes to the Medellin being “more controllable,” implying the US had a relationship with them.

    Also — one inaccuracy, I believe, in your comments. My interpretation from the conversations was that they don’t try to place Isabel deep inside Reyes’ territory for safety. They try to place her deep inside the Matamoros cartel’s territory so that Reyes’ men will have to fight to get her out, thereby escalating the violence between the cartels. Graver tells Rafael, “Put the girl in the middle of Matamoros territory and Reyes will start the fireworks.” In that sense, their disregard for her well-being shown by that plan clashes with their sudden discovery of empathy for her later in the story and is a bit of a plot inconsistency.

    Clearly, though, you are accurate that a third installment was planned. Whether it proceeds, given the poor commercial showing of installment 2, is unclear.

    I thought the last scene — that was nearly universally panned in the reviews I read before seeing the movie — was actually fairly interesting, if certainly, by intent, unsatisfying. Some people, I believe, interpreted it that Alejandro was going to turn Miguel into a Sicario. I watched the scene a few times and noticed something the second time — Alejandro rolls his eyes after Miguel does not deny the desire to be a Sicario. This tells me Alejandro actually intends to try to “save” the boy and turn him away from the path he clearly is declining down (telegraphed by the gang tatoos all over his body, acquired in the intervening year).

    Here’s another hugely relevant point you don’t raise. How does Alejandro know
    Miguel was even at his shooting? Remember Alejandro is knocked out and hooded. From that point to his death, Miguel’s name is never mentioned in the dialogue (I re-watched). And then Alejandro blacks out from the bullet and everyone leaves. All of them are then killed except for Miguel and Isabel, who had been very deliberately shown viewing the “killing.” So there is only one way Alejandro can know that it was Miguel who shot him. In the intervening year, he has found Isabel.

    (One could argue that perhaps the US drone captured the shooter’s face and Graver shares this video later with Alejandro, but that seems more of a stretch.)

    But accepting the initial premise, from a symbolism standpoint, Alejandro has now nearly reconstituted a “family.” He has a surrogate daughter and son who he is protecting. All that is missing is …

    a girlfriend/wife. Emily Blunt.

    (OK, or another surrogate. There’s not an alternate obvious character thus far in a “trilogy” to be a love interest.)

    And if this were the case, then we’d have an interesting new tension where Alejandro now has renewed vulnerability, but also a chance at redemption, perhaps by revisiting his “land of wolves” discussion with Blunt at the end of Sicario 1, and coming to a different conclusion.

    And if you are right that the US Govt is behind the whole thing (recall Foard alludes to the Government not genuinely seeking change), then we have an opportunity for a very interesting full circle, whereby both Alejandro’s nothing-to-lose, “land of the wolves” cynicism and Macer’s rule-of-law idealism are both challenged and need resolution.

    If you’re interested in more of my interpretations on this series, you might like this:

  3. Joe

    Why did Alejandro activate the beacon? He knew that Matt was being sent to “clean” them up, so why draw Matt and the team to them. He didn’t know that the “mule” route would end up a disaster. This is one thing that has bothered me since I first saw this second film in the trilogy.

  4. Cody

    When Graver told Foards “So he doesn’t come and kill you” I took that as Alejandro seeking revenge for being cut loose, not as the US having been responsible for his family’s death. Did I miss something else? I think if he thought the CIA was behind his family’s murder he would have done something about it by now.
    Although Gravers response when told to cut him loose was interesting. “Do you know how hard he was on me”? I believe is what he said. What does that really mean exactly?

  5. Cody

    When Graver told Foards “So he doesn’t come and kill you” I took that as Alejandro seeking revenge for being cut loose, not as the US having been responsible for his family’s death. Did I miss something else? I think if he thought the CIA was behind his family’s murder he would have done something about it by now.
    Although Gravers response when told to cut him loose was interesting. “Do you know how hard he was on me”? I believe is what he said. What does that really mean exactly?

  6. Dave

    The Godfather 2. Greatest movie ever made. I think you missed that one. They wanted to start a war with the cartels and drop her off in enemy territory…not bring her to her father….otherwise, great review. I hope Sicario 3 comes out soon…we need more movies like this.


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