"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Sicario: Day of the Soldado - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 2.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this film in the theatres, just wait to see it on Netflix or cable if you are interested.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Stefano Sollima, is the sequel to the highly acclaimed Sicario (2015) that tells the story of U.S. black operators fighting drug and human trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border. The film stars Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, with supporting turns from Catherine Keener and Matthew Modine.

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When I went to see Sicario: Day of the Soldad in the theatre on the morning of its opening day, something odd happened. After an usher introduced the film and showed patrons where the exits were in case of emergency, sort of like a cinema flight attendant, a crotchety old man sitting by himself in one of the first few rows of the second section of the theatre barked to the female usher to "COME HERE". This boorish old man's antics greatly displeased many patrons, mostly for its rudeness but also because of the racial dynamics at play, as the attendant was a young Black woman and the old man was White. As voices of resistance spoke up against the old man he proclaimed very loudly to everyone in the theatre to "mind your own business".

The theatre attendant gave a dismissive laugh and walked over to see what the man wanted. He then said very loudly... and to my great amusement considering Sicario: Day of the Soldad is about Mexican drug dealers..."get me a Mexican Coke". This old guy was obviously an ultra-asshole, but his "Mexican Coke" demand was even more insulting and bizarre than his order of "come here"...are movie theatre ushers waitresses now too? The attendant gave the guy a cursory answer along the lines of "I have something else to do" and stormed off with a laugh...leaving the tension filled theatre in a hurry.

After this rather strange and unsettling incident, I sat back and tried to enjoy my popcorn and root beer which I had, like the grown man that I am, gotten all by myself at the concession stand. At the concession stand I was, coincidentally enough,  served by a fellow who worked crew on a film I shot years ago. We exchanged pleasantries and caught up with each other while he rang me up for my popcorn and root beer. In hindsight, I wish I had sternly told him to get me a fucking Mexican Coke...but sadly I didn't.

Needless to say my movie going experience up to and including the post-old man Mexican Coke incident had been a roller coaster ride, first the pleasantness of catching up with an old comrade followed up by the ugliness of an old man demanding Mexican Coke...and the feature presentation hadn't even started yet. I could not figure out if all of these strange happenings were good or bad omens for my seeing of Sicario: Day of the Soldad...then the movie started.

In my vast cinema experience I have learned that sometimes you go to the theatre and the popcorn is stale and the root beer is flat and it ruins the whole movie for you. Other times, you go the the theatre and the popcorn is fresh and the root beer fizzy, but it is the movie that is stale and flat. Sicario: Day of the Soldad falls into the latter category and is sadly the cinematic equivalent of stale popcorn and flat root beer and all of the accompanying disappointment that goes along with them.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado has some very big cinematic shoes to fill as its predecessor, Sicario, was one of the best films of recent years that boasted Mickey Award® wins for Best Actress - Emily Blunt, and Best Cinematography - Roger Deakins, and Mickey® nominations for Best Director - Denis Villeneuve, and Best Screenplay- Taylor Sheridan along with a Best Picture nomination.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado does not in any way live up to the high standards of Sicario. The reasons for this are numerous and obvious, the most glaring being the drop in talent among the filmmakers. Day of the Soldado is directed by Stefano Sollima, and he is certainly no Denis Villeneuve. The new film also replaces famed cinematographer Roger Deakins with Dariusz Wolski, and Wolski cannot hold a candle to the grand master Deakins. And finally the movie replaces Emily Blunt with...well...no one.

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Day of the Soldado's failure to replace Blunt isn't just a matter of star power or performance, it is a matter of structure. Sicario 2 has no main protagonist and therefore is so structurally unsound as to be useless, like a rudderless ship lost at sea. Blunt's performance in the original was exquisitely sublime, but even more importantly was the fact that the story was propelled forward by her character. Day of the Soldado has multiple narratives, one of an assassin out for revenge, another of a CIA agent who'll do anything to protect America, one about a teenage trafficker and finally one about a cartel princess, but none of them carry any dramatic or emotional resonance or are compelling enough to keep our interest. 

Taylor Sheridan is the best screenwriter working in Hollywood today, his scripts for Hell or High Water, Wind River and the original Sicario are truly fantastic and speak to the crisis of America and the American Male better than any films of the last quarter century. But Sheridan's screenplay for Day of the Soldado suffers from a stark lack of narrative focus and dramatic power, and is extremely poorly conceived and even more poorly executed. I was absolutely shocked at Sheridan for having written such a dilapidated script that lacks a coherent narrative, dramatic impact and cultural insight.

Director Sollima is simply ill-equipped to tackle the unwieldy beast that is Sheridan's script. Unlike his predecessor Villeneuve, Sollima seems more at home making a "cool" action type movie rather than a powerful drama. Day of the Soldado is littered with "cool guy" moments and one liners that feel more like something from a high-end Liam Neeson shoot-em up movie than an Oscar contender.

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Benicio del Toro does solid work in reprising his role of assassin Allejandro Gillick...but he too falls into the "cool guy" mode of acting to fit the improbable script he is given. Gillick has morphed into a sort of Mexican Dirty Harry or a Charles Bronson character or something. Del Toro is a captivating screen presence but in Day of the Soldado his invincible Gillick jumps the shark into the incredulous.

Josh Brolin also does solid but unspectacular work in reprising his role of CIA black operator Matt Graver. Brolin has grown into a substantial actor and is having a particularly fruitful year, having co-starred in both Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War. In Day of the Soldado, Brolin is hamstrung by Sheridan's limp script that gives his character an arc that is simply not dramatically believable.

Other actors in the cast do not fair as well as del Toro and Brolin. Catherine Keener is atrocious as government bureaucrat Cynthia Foards. Keener's lack of verbal rhythm combined with her scattered performance, are so clueless as to be uncomfortable to watch.

Matthew Modine plays Secretary of Defense James Riley and is laughably bad. Modine tries as hard as he can to convey gravitas but it is like getting blood from a stone.

Sicario: Day of the Soldad is littered with time and logical inconsistencies as well as a flaccid narrative. None of the motivations of the characters makes sense and none of the conclusions are dramatically satisfying.

Instead of being a taut and tightly wound drama like its predecessor, Sicario 2 is a limp, poorly paced, confusing dark action movie that falls decidedly flat. Even though it has all the trappings of a great movie, it lacks the artistic courage to actually be one, and seems more interested in building a franchise than in telling a compelling story.

In conclusion, I was greatly disappointed by Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and I think you will be too. There is no sense in paying to see this film in the theatres, but if you really want to see it, buy your own root beer (or Mexican coke), make your own popcorn and  watch it when it comes out on Netflix or cable.

©2018

 

 

 

Wind River : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE. This is a top-notch film that works on multiple levels and should not be missed.

Wind River, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, is the story of Cory Lambert, a tracker/hunter with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who teams up with FBI agent Jane Banner to solve a murder on the Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming. The film stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, with supporting turns from Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham.

The first thing to know about Wind River is that it is not an art house film, well...not really. Writer/director Taylor Sheridan writes mainstream types of stories, about the drug war in Sicario (2015), or bank robbers in Hell or High Water (2016) and now a murder mystery with Wind River, but Sheridan is so skilled and gifted as a writer he is able to infuse these well-worn narratives with such originality, insight and intelligence that they are elevated from the mundane to the sublime. 

Taylor Sheridan is unquestionably the best writer working in Hollywood today (proof of this being he has two nominations and one win for the most prestigious award on the planet…The Mickey©®!!). His previous screenplays, Sicario and Hell or High Water, were exquisite masterpieces. The script for Wind River certainly lives up to his stellar earlier work. 

 

Wind River is Taylor Sheridan's first time directing a major feature film. His direction is unspectacular but noteworthy for being both proficient and efficient. Sheridan keeps the pacing taut but never rushed, and allows his scenes and his actors some breathing room in the vast expanse of the Wyoming wilderness.  

As screenwriter, Sheridan is a physician who keeps properly diagnosing the disease eating away at the core of America in general, and the American Man in particular. Sheridan's characters are not verbose, but they speak volumes about the wounded state of masculinity in this country. While on the surface Wind River is a murder mystery in Big Sky country, it is considerably more than that. Wind River is a meditation on grief and the current state of Man. The film reveals the festering toxicity of damaged masculinity that is contagion in America, and that infects and destroys everything it touches (look no further than the current occupant of the White House for proof of this). Sheridan has written about the world of men effectively in both Sicario and Hell or High Water, and he does so again in Wind River. The murder-mystery story is well-executed and intriguing, but for me the most compelling part of the film is Sheridan's sub-text dealing with the debilitating state of modern manhood and the crippling effect of grief. 

Jeremy Renner plays hunter/tracker Cory Lambert and delivers the best performance of his career. Renner's work is well crafted, meticulous, detailed and is most definitely Oscar worthy. Renner's Lambert is a reserved and laconic man, but the anguish and fury contained within him is palpable. The scenes between Renner and Gil Birmingham's Martin Hanson contain some of the most subtle and layered acting on film this year. The scene between the two men on the front porch of Martin Hanson's home is a wrenching one, where the pain that pulses through these men's souls reveals itself out of the abyss of their heartbreak. It is a startlingly fantastic scene that would have been ordinary in the hands of lesser actors. 

Elizabeth Olsen does terrific work as well as fish out of water FBI agent Jane Banner. Olsen's Banner is in over her head, but she has the smarts and guile to keep herself together, until she doesn't. Her scene with Renner towards the end of the film highlights her skillful, subtle and wonderfully effective work in the film. Olsen is an often overlooked actress, but she is a potent talent who just needs the right script to shine, thankfully she gets one with Wind River.

The supporting actors, particularly Graham Greene, as a local Indian police chief, and the previously mentioned Gil Birmingham as Martin Hanson, are fantastic. They are two characters used to the bleak existence of life on the reservation, and their existential grief and angst hang over them like storm clouds. 

Another actor who has a very minimal but pivotal role is Jon Bernthal, and his work is exceptional. With minimal screen time and dialogue, Bernthal is able to create a fully formed and multi-dimensional character that is unique but familiar. Bernthal's work is vital to the film, and he shows himself to be a really strong actor capable of doing a lot with a little.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson makes the most of the glorious setting and delivers crisp visuals highlighting the contrasting colors of the wintery mountains. Richardson's striking visuals combined with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtrack make for a mesmerizing film going experience. 

As someone who has felt the biting sting of grief, Wind River resonated deeply with me. As someone with an intimate connection to the Native American community, my kindred relationship to the film was further enhanced by Sheridan's respectful but brutally honest assessment of the state of Indian life in America that was both depressing and infuriating. The fact that Native American women are the only group of people in the United States for whom they do not keep statistics regarding missing persons is one of the more incredible statistics you can find…or not find in this case. It is also all the evidence you need to understand that Native people in America have been dehumanized for centuries by many Americans and the U.S. government, and continue to be to this day. 

In conclusion, Wind River is a terrific film that boasts an Oscar worthy performance by Jeremy Renner and and equally impressive script from Taylor Sheridan. Wind River was very captivating but at times difficult to watch, but regardless of how emotionally wrenching the film could be, it was always honest and insightful about humanity and the malevolent world we inhabit. I highly recommend you spend your hard earned money and go see Wind River in the theaters. The lessons it imparts are ones we all desperately need to learn.

©2017