This ultra-violent crime thriller, satirizing some of Americans’ most despicable, imperialist impulses, somehow seems as though it is from a quieter, more decent time — and that’s depressing. Because nothing the Americans do here is good or kind or right in its sensationalized yet still morally accurate portrayal of the wars we wage — the wars we have always waged. But, hey, there are some sick one-liners, and somewhere in the convoluted plot is a heart-pumping chiller of a story with no easy heroes.
This is particularly emphasized in Soldado, which opens with the uncomfortably timely image of Mexican migrants crossing the Texas border and being surrounded by border patrol officers. (There are allusions to a POTUS with varying opinions on the goings-on south of the border, which convinces me more than ever that post-2016, you cannot refer to the American president without first assuring us which one you are referring to.)
Amorality rather than soul-searching allows action to dominate some thrilling cinematography. The film does have some insight into the chaos of border crossing, Soldado concentrating on terrorist trafficking rather than drugs, and a brief moment of suspense as Alejandro tries to keep Isabel with him. Tearing the child away obliquely reminds us of the current zero-tolerance controversy on real borders.
SOLDADO is not as deep or disturbing as SICARIO. The story is not as satisfying or focused, but there is greatness in the film. I’ll repeat: the directing, cinematography, score and acting are top notch. It’s never dull – it’s actually pretty riveting throughout – but SICARIO had such a great atmosphere throughout, and left you (or me, at least) really disturbed. SOLDADO never goes to those lengths, because it doesn’t have that sense of purpose. But still, a solid film.