In ‘Day of the Soldado,’ an equally bleak ‘Sicario’

Movie Review

Josh Brolin in a scene from the upcoming “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” Sony Pictures via AP photo

* “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” two and a half stars out of four.

There’s an oppressive bleakness to the brutal action-thriller “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” But with faces like Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, what are you going to do?

Amid the dust cloud of violence that settles over the “Sicario” sequel, nothing stands out like the furrowed brow of Brolin’s grimace or the cold, worn-out stare of del Toro. With such sunken, world-weary eyes, in the heyday of film noir del Toro and Brolin would have made a killing.

They do plenty of that, too, in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” Matt Graver (Brolin) and his cartel lawyer turned undercover pal Alejandro Gillick (del Toro) are again called into action in a black-ops operation along the Mexico border, this time without the benefit of Emily Blunt, who starred in Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario” (2015).

Blunt played a less experienced FBI agent with the naivety to be horrified by things that Graver and Gillick wouldn’t bat an eye at –you know, sissy stuff like dozens of decaying corpses stuffed like insulation into a Mexican cartel safe house. And Blunt’s absence leaves “Day of Soldado” without the mounting sense of dread that defined the first one.

It also lacks the muscular camera work of Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins. With such missing talent, it would be easy to view “Day of the Soldado” as a cheaper knockoff.

Stefano Sollima (“Gomorrah”) steps in to direct a script by Taylor Sheridan, whose neo-westerns (“Hell or High Water,” “Wind River”) have made him the genre’s best new hope. Sheridan wrote “Sicario,” too, which sought to modernize the drug-war thriller to catch it up to the lethal battles of today’s cartels.

“Sicario” mostly stood for a ruthless, borderless American power equaling the ultra-violence of a new era, with all the moral doubt that accompanies such a fight. “Day of the Soldado” begins with a similar stab at political relevance. A supermarket in Kansas City is attacked by a swarm of suicide bombers, the last of whom we watch detonate his vest just as a mother and child are trying to tiptoe past.

Where “Day of the Soldado” most succeeds is in the blur or maybe altogether disintegration of American altruism in a heinous fight.

Things go from dark to darker still, as “Day of the Soldado” sets its genre tale against the backdrop of Mexican migrants in a way that sometimes feels topical and sometimes exploitive. ”

“Day of the Soldado” is sober and grim, but it has taken to heart one of its best lines: “All border towns bring out the worst in a country.”

Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong violence, bloody images, and language.” Running time: 123 minutes.