CVIndependent

Sat09222018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Maybe it was because Emily Blunt opted to make A Quiet Place. Or perhaps it was because she agreed to star in the new Mary Poppins movie. Whatever it was that kept her from saying yes to a Sicario sequel, her refusal should’ve made producers say, “Oh, well. Maybe later, when Blunt frees up?” After all, she was the main reason to watch the original.

Nope. They went for it anyway, and the result is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, an excuse to trot out Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin in a nasty film that’s plotted in such a way as to assure it will give Sean Hannity and his ilk monster boners—ginormous, Fox News red boners right there in the middle of the theater.

The timing of this movie is … shall we say, interesting. As real-life tensions build along the Mexican border, with families being separated, along comes a movie that shows ISIS terrorists crossing over the Mexican border and blowing up strip malls. Wait a minute … wasn’t Sicario supposed to be about America’s beef with drug cartels? This ISIS stuff feels, well, tacked on.

The terrorism element is introduced near the beginning of the movie, but it later falls away in favor of a subplot about a kidnapping intended to start a war between the Mexican and U.S. governments. In fact, a character dismisses the terrorist element later in the movie by saying, “Oh, they were from New Jersey,” or something along those lines. It’s as if screenwriter Taylor Sheridan started one movie, got scared and finished with another one. To say the movie lacks focus is an understatement.

Brolin returns as agent Matt Graver, a nasty guy who will blow up your brother as you watch on a laptop if you don’t tell him what he needs to hear. Del Toro is also back as Alejandro, an operative once again hired by the U.S., this time to stir up trouble with the cartels and eventually kidnap Isabel (Isabela Moner), a drug kingpin’s daughter.

Moner—you might remember her from her unfortunate participation in the latest Transformers movie—is a big star in the making. She gives the kind of performance that breaks your heart, because it is so good in service of something so mediocre. There are moments when she makes you forget you are watching a very unimportant movie.

Del Toro works hard to bring some gravitas to the proceedings, but this is basically a sadistic action thriller with little brains. There are some decent sequences put together by director Stefano Sollima, who replaces the excellent Denis Villeneuve from the original. While Villeneuve provided real dramatic heft with the gunfights, Sollima gives us the shock minus the depth. The result is a hollow movie.

Catherine Keener shows up as Brolin’s boss, who makes him do things that only a truly despicable POTUS would put into play. It’s hard to tell if the movie is an indictment of U.S. policies, or a celebration, although the dudes whooping and drooling in the front row made me think it was more of a celebration. Matthew Modine is on hand as the secretary of defense, and plays it like a beefier meditation on his Stranger Things villain.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado avoids being one of the summer’s worst films thanks to Moner, who makes stretches of the movie worthwhile. She’s slated to play the title character in a live-action Dora the Explorer film. Whatever she does, she will probably wind up a star.

As for the Sicario franchise? It probably now has a place as what’s essentially Trump porn … intended or not.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

If you are a fan of last year’s excellent modern Western Hell or High Water, get yourself into a theater to see Wind River.

The writer of Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan, writes and directs Wind River. He is a true wordsmith who captures American dilemmas on par with Sam Shepard and Cormac McCarthy. The man knows how to pen a great thriller with depth, and his works (he also wrote Sicario) all have a common, somber tone. This is a guy who knows that many of the people you will pass on the street are dealing with grief and loss—they are surviving, but it’s a bitch, and it’s not going to get easier.

Wind River marks Sheridan’s second directorial effort, after 2011’s low-budget Vile, and it stands as one of the summer’s best films. It’s a solid mystery-thriller, and a showcase for fierce performances from Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. They both offer up career-best work, with Renner searing the screen as Cory, a man with a tragic past who is paid to hunt wolves and mountain lions on a Native American reservation. Olsen commands her screen time as Jane, one of cinema’s gutsiest FBI agents since Clarice Starling.

Sheridan, who directs with style and grace, gives us a haunting image to start his movie: Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a young Native American woman, is running across a freezing nightscape with no shoes on. She’s scared for her life, but we don’t know why. Soon, we will find out.

Cory is patrolling snow-covered grounds, shooting wolves from long distances. He’s stoic and level-headed, a quiet man whose emotions never go to a fever pitch. However, when Cory discovers the body of the woman we saw in the opening sequence, it’s clear that the woman’s identity strikes a chord in his heart.

Cory and his ex-wife (Julia Jones) have lost a child, and they are doing their best to give their living son (Teo Briones) a happy life in the aftermath. Their lost daughter was the best friend of the new victim—understandably setting something off in Cory. When FBI Agent Jane shows up, lost in a snowstorm and looking for answers, he’s more than willing to help with the investigation.

Sheridan’s mystery builds from there, as the identity of the murderer is not immediately apparent. Considering the murder took place on a sparsely populated reservation, there aren’t many suspects, but Sheridan will keep you guessing—and you’ll suspect everybody onscreen. The conclusion doesn’t feel like a narrative cheat, as so many murder mysteries do. The conclusion resonates with horror and bleakness; you aren’t going to have a typical good time at this movie.

You will, however, be witnessing remarkable work by Renner. He’s tasked with some of the most emotionally brutal scenes an actor has had to handle this year. He’s been impressive before (in The Hurt Locker), but this takes his stock to a new level. When he recounts the death of his daughter to Jane, the story almost knocks her on her ass—and you can relate. I mentioned that Cory is stoic, but he’s most certainly not one-dimensional. Renner finds ample nuance and power in this character’s quiet pain.

Olsen matches Renner on all fronts. Her Jane is a by-the-book type who must make some major adjustments in the field while dealing with the grief all around her. Jane is supposed to be setting the table for a bigger investigation, but she finds herself drawing her gun more than once; she’s in it for the long haul. The character goes through many phases during film’s 107-minute running time, and Olsen makes all of them intriguing.

Gil Birmingham (who also starred in Hell or High Water) and Graham Greene round out one of the year’s best ensemble casts.

Wind River will exhaust you by the time credits roll. It’ll bum you out—as it damn well should.

Wind River is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive; 844-462-7342), the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033) and the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682.)

Published in Reviews