Updated: Oct 14, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018, R for strong violence, bloody images, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “From Film to Franchise: Continuing the Story”
WHEN French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) began filming his moody drug-war thriller “Sicario” set along the U.S. and Mexico border, many within the cast and the producers, “felt the story had more legs than just one movie,” says co-producer Thad Luckinbill during the featurette “From Film to Franchise.”
“Sicario” ended up with three Academy Awards nominations for Best Cinematography, Original Score and Sound Editing, but short shrift without nods for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Emily Blunt as FBI agent Kate Macer, and Best Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro as Alejandro, the hired Sicario (Mexican slang for “hitman”) as a U.S. operative. Critics loved it, rating it over 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Three weeks before production ended everyone agreed, “These characters should continue on…and the idea grew,” says Luckinbill. “I don’t think any of the producers or director or actors had any idea how much of an effect “Sicario” would have on the psyche of the audience.”
Three years later, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” hit theaters. The storyline continued to be set along the Texas border, but with a different twist. Texas writer Taylor Sheridan, who penned both “Sicario” films and received an Oscar nomination for his Texas crime drama “Hell and High Water,” explores how drug cartels have expanded human trafficking along with drugs across the Rio Grande River.
Sheridan planned a spin-off with the Alejandro and Graver characters, envisioning a possible trilogy, Luckinbill says. Italian director Stefano Sollima took over, since Villeneuve was locked into post-production for “Blade Runner 2049.” “People were craving to seeing more of Alejandro and Josh Brolin’s character,” cocky federal agent Matt Graver, says co-producer Edward. L. McDonnell.
“Soldado” opens in the Gulf of Somalia and Djibouti on the East Coast of Africa after a terrorist bombing in Kansas City. Interrogation leads to Mexican cartel kingpin Carlos Reyes, who murdered Alejandro’s family some years earlier. Reyes now runs a highly profitable illegal-immigrant trade into the U.S., with a possible ISIS terrorist connection. One of the illegals blows himself up after a confrontation with the U.S. Border Patrol.
A directive from U.S. Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) and Graver’s superior, Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener), initiates an offense against Reyes (a similar twist from Tom Clancy’s “Clear and Present Danger”). In a covert operation to be pinned on a rival cartel, Reyes’ 16-year old daughter Isabel, wonderful played by Isabela Moner, is kidnapped. There’s plenty of violence, reminiscent of the first “Sicario,” especially when two dozen Mexican police ambush Graver and his team while returning Isabel to the Mexican government. After the bullets stop, the story intensifies between Alejandro and Isabel as he remembers his own daughter.
“Soldado” can’t quite match the visuals from “Sicario” on several levels. First, 14-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins was replaced by Ridley Scott’s recent go-to cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski (“The Martian,” “All the Money in the World”). It’s a completely different look. Wolski provides honorable visuals mostly with a wide angle perspective from the brilliant desert colors of New Mexico to the streets of Mexico City seen in the kidnapping.
Both films used the 3.4K digital camera (2.39:1 aspect ratio), which produced excellent low light imagery for the numerous nighttime scenes. Still, “Sicario,” mastered in 4K, excelled with its superior clarity. “Soldado” was mastered in 2K and then upconverted for this presentation. Overall sharpness is down a notch in the frequent wide shots, although other footage is first-rate, especially when Alejandro and Isabel take refuge at the home of a hearing impaired couple near the U.S. border. The HDR10 and Dolby Vision on iTunes are excellent; its toning during the night sequences shows deep, dark blacks without losing detail, and bright daylight scenes with the sun and clouds nicely defined. The colors are richer. It looks glorious as the sun sets on the desert horizon.
“Soldado” includes the all-encompassing Dolby Atmos soundtrack balanced nicely between the height speaker effects and bullets zipping around the room, with a deep subwoofer bass response from a drone missile blast. Plus, the score is a mixture of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s original nerve-jarring score from “Sicario,” with new electronic atmospheric musical cues from one of his fellow Icelandic associates, Hildur Guðnadóttir.
In addition to “From Film to Franchise, the enclosed Blu-ray and digital downloads include two more featurettes. “An Act of War: Making Of” highlights Sollima’s vision; he also directed a highly praised Italian TV series “Gomorrah,” about the dark side of Italian mobsters. “The Assassin and the Solider” explores the two main characters showing how Graver has gone darker after missions in Syria and the Middle East, and how the rage inside Alejandro has intensified because of his personal loss.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a solid follow-up, but doesn’t match the intensity and power of Villeneuve’s “Sicario” visionary style, especially without the star power of Emily Blunt.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer