Before writing anything I must first speak on Benecio Del Toro, mainly on his possessing a thing that cannot be taught, that cannot be learned, a thing that has come to be known as “it.” Sean Connery, Idris Elba, Clarence Williams, Tom Hardy—all these actors have “it” in their DNA; it is something that allows them to appear onscreen and command it while saying absolutely nothing—“it,” one might say, is presence; it is a demeanor expressed mostly through the eyes and mouth; it is observed in how the actor stands, how the actor walks, gestures, and even how he takes air into his lungs. I name here only male actors not to be sexist, no, but because the trait is mostly observed in males, because it is, I believe, a characteristic of masculinity—not simply of maleness, but of manliness. For that reason, actresses possessing the gift, no matter how beautiful, or effeminate, also possess an undeniable masculine quality that reveals itself despite their otherwise feminine appearance. Lauren Bacall comes to mind; in To Have and To Have Not, she needn't speak a word and even Humphrey Bogart understood there was something extraordinary about this woman beyond her exquisite surface, something deeper, captivating, ferocious. But back to the point: As in Soldado's prequel, Sicario, Benicio Del Toro appears and immediately one seeks to know who is this man? Why is this man? and how many other men have perished attempting to find out?
Occurring soon after the events in Sicario, Day of the Soldado is a seething, violent, quasi-political drama featuring Del Toro as CIA operative Alejandro Gillick, a machine constructed by violence, fueled by vengeance and producing only that which conceived it: Death. Along with Alejandro, the CIA has been given orders to start a war between the Mexican drug cartels for the purpose of...one cannot say for sure; for the story here is not as easily grasped as its predecessor's. Certainly we can discern from early events in the film why the Company has been “unleashed” into an arena in which there will be “no rules,” but it is still difficult to imagine a scenario where its mission, to clandestinely penetrate the border of a neighboring ally in order to toss a match onto a region still smoldering from the Company's last adventure there, it is difficult to imagine that the arsons could return from this journey without themselves getting burned. The mission is doomed from the start, and only hubris prevents those involved, including the movie's creators, from comprehending what is all too clear.
Soldado isn't a complete film in that it suffers from apparently being part II of a trilogy. Unlike Sicario, where the story is told from beginning to end, simultaneously leaving the audience with a sense of satisfaction and anticipation for what's to come, Soldado is way too interested in preparing us for the eventual finale, leaving too many questions unanswered, too many streets abandoned for us to wander alone. On one such street we are left to ask what director Stefano Solima and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan should have asked themselves: While protecting the daughter of a monster responsible for the slaughter of Alejandro's own daughter—had her submerged in acid, in fact—agent Gillick appears without conflict, without any sense of turmoil over what could only be described as the most unendurable hell in which a man could find himself: for each second in the presence of this child must remind him of the moment he discovered that his own little girl had literally been dissolved; each instant protecting her must recall for him the instant he could not protect his child from the demons of this world; I say, in Alejandro MUST be ready to erupt a scream for vengeance that could at least somewhat be mollified if allowing his enemy's child to suffer as his child did, to perish in a similar way, so that her dad, while still capable of taking air into his lungs, is made to bear what Alejandro will endure until the instant he stops taking air into his; and to not address this is a missed opportunity to delve further into Alejandro's understandably horrific depths.
I am not suggesting that Gillick should himself become the monster; I am instead insisting that he is ALREADY the monster, as evidenced in the remaining minutes of the first Sicario, during which the beast wholly reveals himself before devouring an entire family about to, ironically, eat their meal. We see only a glimpse of him in Soldado: On a Mexico street the assassin Gillick removes his mask, showing his true face to a victim who immediately knows why he is about to die, why the monster is there, why the beast pulls the trigger until Karma cums.
With solid performances from Josh Brolin, Isabela Monin, and of course Benicio Del Toro, Day of the Soldado is a film whose cast deserved more than they were given; it is a movie that cannot help but be a disappointment to anyone who truly appreciates its prequel; and it is a story that will hopefully be more adequately told in the next Sicario, the last act of what will hopefully be determined an impressive trilogy.