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Sicario 2: Soldado

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2015’s Sicario was a coming together of several brilliant talents. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who also delivered great scripts with Hell Or High Water and Wind River; director of photography Roger Deakins, who drew closer to his elusive Oscar; the fine acting chops of Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin; the ever improving director Denis Villeneuve, whose subsequent films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 cemented his standing as one of the finest directors working in Hollywood. 2018’s Sicario 2: Soldado reunites Sheridan’s writing with Del Toro’s enigmatic Alejandro and Brolin’s bullish yet principled Matt Graver, but minus the other prominent figures with Stefano Sollima behind the camera and Dariusz Wolski on lensing duties. New cast members include Isabela Moner, Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener and Elijah Rodriguez, their presence expanding the scope of this follow-up. Concerns over terrorism and pirating give the film a more global flavour, although these elements serve more as a distraction than contextualisation. The film’s subject matter feels ripped from the headlines as immigration is a prominent feature, much of the film involving Mexicans illegally entering the United States. While there is (currently) no wall, there are certainly obstacles as well as opportunities for those willing to exploit the desperate. Into this potent mix Matt sends Alejandro, with the goal of starting a war between drug cartels. The film is efficiently put together, with several gripping set pieces including a gruelling gun battle on a deserted desert road. Oddly, the film’s more affecting moments are quiet interchanges, especially between Alejandro and Isabel Reyes (Moner), daughter of a cartel head that Alejandro takes custody of. Their relationship is engaging, while Matt’s clashes with his government superior Cynthia Foards (Keener) and Secretary James Riley (Matthew Modine) highlight the political agenda. Unfortunately, these disparate elements are not cohered, while a subplot involving young Mexican-American Miguel Hernandez (Rodriguez) never convinces. Worse, the film lacks the nihilism of the original, and in its final act there are several moments that could be shockingly cruel, but instead the film loses its nerve and takes the narrative beyond its natural conclusion. The border has many interesting stories, but this is one of the lesser ones.

Patriots Day

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A real life tragedy is a delicate subject to put on screen, especially one that features the incendiary topic of terrorism. Peter Berg largely strikes the necessary tone throughout Patriots Day, a dramatisation of the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon. The film expresses the horror of the situation without overplaying a sense of patriotism, nor being exploitative of the bomb victims. Berg’s great strength is his combination of CCTV, news and cell phone footage with standard cinematic techniques. Aerial shots of Boston provide the broad scale of the story, while shaky cam coverage places the viewer within the events. This blend of visual styles is especially effective in the immediate aftermath of the blasts as it conveys the chaos of a terrorist attack. Subsequent gun battles between the police and the bombers are similarly gripping, the viewer placed at an uncomfortable proximity to genuinely frightening violence. These sequences present the various unconnected figures involved in the marathon and the manhunt for the perpetrators, who are thankfully not presented as raving psychotics but as little men wanting glory. Scenes featuring bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze), as well as victims Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) and Sean Collier (Jake Picking), as well as other people involved in the events demonstrate the randomness and indiscriminate nature of the attacks and their aftermath. The film’s weaker sections are those of coherence, as it slides into generic thriller territory closely connected to the professional redemption of Mark Wahlberg’s fictional cop Tommy Saunders. When Saunders interacts with the individuals actually involved in the attack and subsequent investigation – including police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) and special FBI agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) – the film’s coherence sits unevenly with the chaos of the blasts and disparate nature of the investigation. Overall Patriots Day is uneven, but its blending of different types of footage is effective and Berg is to be applauded for avoiding simplistic flag-waving.