I went to see Sicario: Day of the Soldado a couple weeks back, the sequel to the widely acclaimed first film directed by Denis Villeneuve. While the film was lambasted for being heavy-handed (I will confess to a strong odour of American jingoism) I was blown away with its sense of scale and spectacle.
I've read my fair share on the complexities (and utter depravities) committed by the Mexican cartels, recounted in vivid detail in Narco: The Bloody Rise of Mexican Drug Cartels by Ioan Grillo. As I see it, the film is a portrait of the modern world, where the line between right and wrong is so blurred it leaves you desperate for the comfort of cat memes.
Sequels as a rule have a bad rap and for good reason. Hollywood, like any other commercial enterprise, is out to return on their investments. Unlike a reputable restaurant however, the key ingredients that inspired the original rarely stay the same, with its writer and director rarely returning. Sometimes their newly enlarged salaries blow out the budget, other times they want to start fresh, to ensure their careers are not defined by one universe.
Every once in a while however the formula fails to heed its own principles and the magic is recycled. In the case of Sicario’s baby brother, the key ingredient lies with its author and creator — Taylor Sheridan. Born and raised in small-town Texas, the former actor gave up on close to two decades of work to pursue screenwriting full-time. As he likes to tell it, he learned the craft by having to work with so many terrible scripts in front of the camera.
Sheridan isn’t afraid to paint his characters with an uncharacteristic sense of honesty and humanity. In his body of work, from Hell or High Water to Wind River, there is an underlying devotion to putting the story first. This has resulted in screenplays that undermine some of Hollywood’s oldest precepts; shifting the protagonist mid-stream and leaving audiences with endings that are never black and white.
What I love about his storytelling is that he doesn’t hold your hand. Rather he likes to let his characters tell the story that’s brimming inside of them, believing his audiences more than capable of digesting the narrative layers and inserting their own subjective reality when necessary. The line between good, bad and the ugly is often so gray that you’re left grasping for a moral life-raft.
This is precisely his point, to open our eyes to the fact that such polarities— as they exist in twenty-four hour news-cycles and political rhetoric — have no basis in real life. If we want to truly vanquish the problems that pervade the world around us we need to start by putting 'good and evil' six feet under.