In my review of Sicario, I praised its style but found huge faults with its substance. Namely its reckless use of real-world trauma, without a clear point of view to back it up: “Crossing lines is easy. The border between mood-building and sadism — between calls to arms and empty protest — is a point.”
Day of the Soldado only solidifies what that film’s second act, and Taylor Sheridan’s mortifying post-Hell Or High Water Drafthouse Q&A (wherein he drunkenly explained “the actual problems” of race in America) hinted at: that the critically beloved screenwriter knows the cadence of profundity and outrage, but he doesn’t have a clue what it means. Fire and fury, meet nothing. Nothing, meet a shit ton of fire.
Soldado reminds me of everything that’s gross about Game of Thrones, minus everything that makes it so compelling. Gone is any palace intrigue, any clever game of political chess or stirring character moment before the mayhem. Depravity is the only thing we have room for in this universe. Forget mystery; it’s nihilism wrapped in nihilism shrouded in nihilism. It’s Benicio del Toro shooting a man in the head so we can watch his blood splatter on a teenage girl’s face. It’s Josh Brolin air-striking a Somalian smuggler’s family just to look hard. It’s a bearded border crosser shouting in Arabic, then exploding in full view of the camera; it’s that same scene played out three more times in the presence of mothers and children, literally seconds later. Oh, to be sure, it will turn the tables on all of this — it’s the government, man, it’s a metaphor for our own xenophobia, bro, it’s about antiheroes and us being our own worst enemies, sheeple — but all I see is a gaping black hole where a point was supposed to be.
It builds dread. It ramps up the stakes. It is, at times, genuinely thrilling. But thrill alone doesn’t edify. Shock alone doesn’t make you brave. And while everything is technically fair use in art — no image too vile, no current event too fresh — if you’re going to reach for weapons this potent (and timely) you’d better be goddamn sure you know how to aim them. At best, Soldado doesn’t care where it’s aiming. At worst, it’s knowingly aiming them in the wrong direction. No respect for this one.
Chris, Carson, and I debate the relative merits of the Sicario universe in Episode 506: