Following up on a singular film like “Sicario” is a hard prospect. The essence is that bigger isn’t always better but also the texture of certain films cannot be replicated. Denis Villenueve (who elected to make “Blade Runner 2049” instead of this film) had such a specific notion of the texture with its sheer brutality and overtones along with a protagonist point of view and an extended superstructure which made it extremely unique. “Day Of The Soldado” fares better than most sequels simply because the ideas behind it are even more prevalent than when the first film was made and even since this sequel itself was released in theaters with everything that is happening along the Mexican border near San Diego. The essence is that the two lead characters of Matt and Alejandro (as played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro respectively) have to grow and be held accountable in certain ways for their actions. Of course, there is no way to parallel or even come close to the conclusion of the original “Sicario” which this reviewer initially stated in a way as a “reverse Scarface” after seeing it at the premiere in Cannes a couple years back. Here there is no true segment like that though one involving Alejandro in the desert is pretty wrenching and oddly enough sets another structure in motion that might be interesting to contemplate should the story continue. The director in Stefano Sollima, an Italian filmmaker who made the TV series “Gomarrah” on the mafia in Italy was a great choice but again is no Denis. However with original writer Tye Sheridan writing the sequel and completely understanding the machinations of his world and Darius Wolski who has shot “Fight Club” & “Se7en” for David Fincher, the behind the scenes elements are up to scale. Even Isabella Moner who helped lead the most recent “Transformers” movie shows a definite range as the kidnapped daughter of a drug lord here and holds her own. The Special Features on the disc are succinct and very intuitive of the characters and what the film is trying to achieve from the locations and “making of” to hyperfocusing with the actors on what makes the characters tick. “Day Of Soldado” is not its predecessor but it does a good job in trying to maintain the bar.
In going back to the original material for their remake (or rather, retelling of “True Grit”, the Coen Brothers’ use the base material with their own intention of intended mistaken wantonness. For this reason, it plays much more light than one would think, especially for a picture made originally by the Duke. Much of this has to do with the casting of Jeff Bridges as the titular character. Bridges plays the man with such a variant detachment before snapping back to a focused pinpoint when battle comes into play that you realize the grand modulation he is able to perceive.
Granted when it comes to his characters, most people mount a perception of Jeff with “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski” which still remains his signature character. There tends to be a ghost of that character however it may be in every single performance of his since then. While the eyepatch and the drawl here is a much more deliberate decision, his performance in “Tron: Legacy” by comparison points to more elevated Zen mentality. The joy of the performance here is watching Bridges as Cogburn tell stories and drawl on about past adventures while his employer, a young 14-year-old girl looking for her daddy’s killer, watches with an almost disdainful but respectful perception. Hailee Steinfeld as the young girl Mattie has her work cut out for her going up against not just one but three Hollywood heavyweights (mostly in one-on-one scenes…and each with a different dynamic). Her character at times is the hardest to maintain and her acting may seem a little stilted but the role and its dialogue require it.
Matt Damon plays the Texas lawman LaBoeuf who tags along with Bridges’ Marshall to get his part of the reward money for finding the killer of Mattie’s father. Damon plays the man with a ridiculous (and on-purpose) mustache with a sense of the clod but then modulates it back at times to a man of soul. This is the unmistaken craft of the Coens at play. While the film is more an entertainment yarn than Oscar bait by far, its ability to show the depth of these characters, even when they are being played to the point of caricature creates a seemingly dystopian and modern view of their world and ours.
Josh Brolin plays the target character Tom Chaney and imbues him, like Damon and Bridges before him, with an almost tangible mask hiding behind accents, dirt and altered movement, making him at times unrecognizable in relation to other people he has played as well as himself. The resolution of film in tandem is in keeping in time with the book and the narrative despite itself is fairly straight-forward. It is the characters that make it pop.
The inclusion of a medicine man wearing a bear skin is one of the utter highlights of the movie, not because it has story persistence but for the fact that it is so eccentric. It almost seems as if the lone biker from “Raising Arizona” had returned and assumed the role of the King in “Hamlet”. “True Grit” is undeniable fodder in a grand tradition, adequate and as vivid as any other in the Coens arsenal. Out of 5, I give it a 3.