Premise: The U.S. attempts to incite a cartel war in Mexico in the hopes of branding Mexico a terrorist state, a label which will give them broader powers in managing the border.
About: You thought Sicario was a one-off. Incorrect, son. The badass drug-trafficking drama has inspired a sequel, whose buzz-meter skyrocketed with that great trailer that debuted a couple of weeks ago. Here we were ready to bury Benicio Del Toro after his turn as “DJ” in “The Last Jedi.” But one look at badass Benicio in Soldado and you can see that he’s been reborn, baby! Newly-minted A-list screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is back for the sequel. However, Denis Villeneuve has been replaced by relatively unknown Italian director, Stefano Sollima. Useless note of the week – Lots of S’s today. Sicario, screenplay, stefano, sequel, sollima, sheridan, soldado.
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Details: 128 pages1
There were thoughts by some that Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario was too passive. How did they correct this in the sequel? By getting rid of her! Maybe if her name was Sandy Smith it would’ve been different. The choice is curious when you consider it runs counter to the current trend in Hollywood that dictates all lead characters must be female.
Can a testosterone heavy romp into the world of the drug trade compete? I don’t know but the trailer sure looked awesome. Let’s see what the sequel to one of my favorite scripts from 2015 has in store, and if the increasingly busy Taylor Sheridan brought it.
Black Ops agent Matt Graver is used to taking down terrorists in the Middle East. But the government needs him for one of the most complicated missions ever attempted on North American soil. They want Matt to kill the biggest cartel leader in Mexico and make it look like a rival cartel did it.
You see, the government wants to paint the cartels as violent threats to the U.S., which would allow them to designate all of them “terrorists.” Under that label, the government would have ten times the leniency to police the border, which would make their jobs so much easier. All that red tape would blow away in the wind.
So Matt is given a blank check and access to any toys he wants. Soldiers, SEALS, boats, tanks, drones, you name it. “To do this right, I’ve got to … I just want to be clear — Does the resolve exist to see this through?” Matt asks. “Because to achieve this objective I need to get dirty, sir.” His superior leans forward: “Dirty is exactly why you’re here.”
Matt calls his highly sketchy buddy and Mexico expert, Alejandro (Benicio), to be his operations manager. The plan is to kidnap the cartel leader’s teenage daughter, Isabel, and use her to find her elusive father. However, things start going wrong immediately. The group is ambushed by the Mexican police once they cross the border, and have no choice but to turn them into ground beef.
That dustup allows the daughter to escape. Matt has Alejandro go after her while he heads back to the U.S. with his tail between his legs and tries to explain how, even with all the toys he’s been given, he managed to fuck this up. The government becomes convinced that if the daughter gets to the press, she’ll expose details of the mission, and things will get really bad. What they don’t know is that their fate is now in Alejandro’s hands. He catches up to Isabel, and will have to decide what to do with her. All while Matt’s superiors look for a way to salvage the mission.
Wow, this was one hell of an ambitious sequel. The scope of which we’re working from here rivals that of a James Bond flick. We’re jumping to the U.S., to Mexico, to the Middle East. Costcos are getting blown up. Veteran terrorists are getting tortured. Teenage terrorists are getting trained. We’re meeting TONS of characters. We’re introduced to TONS of story threads. I have to admit, it was overwhelming. If you let your mind drift for even a couple of lines, you were out of the loop.
If I’m being 100, the script can’t keep up with itself. By trying to do so much, it loses its focus. And because of that, the events that occur don’t always make sense. I’ll give you an example. Early in the script, an entire Coscto is blown up on American soil. Hundreds of people die. Yet throughout the rest of the script, that moment is only referenced once, in a throwaway line.
Then later in the script, Matt’s team kills all those Mexican police. His boss is furious about this, fearing that the entire country is going to turn on the government if they find out American is responsible. Except the story has already established a rule-set by which an entire Costco can be destroyed and not a single person in America bats on eye. Why would we think those same people would care about a bunch of people killed in another country? Cops or not.
The central plan here is also confusing. They want to kill this cartel leader. Which is fine. But they never introduce us to him, which seems odd. This script has a 40+ character count. But it doesn’t introduce us to the most important enemy in the story?? This makes it harder to care about Isabel, the daughter of the cartel leader, since we don’t establish a physical connection between her and her father. As a result she just seems like some girl.
And then I wasn’t clear what they were trying to do with her. At first I thought it was to draw the father out. But instead we have this convoluted plan where they’re using her to draw out the rival cartel, I suppose to kill her? Or try to kill her? Which would then result in retaliation from her father? A father we’ve never seen? It was WAAAAY too complicated. In my experience, if you’re writing something with this kind of scope, the central goal driving your hero’s actions must be simple. This was not.
Writers need to understand that these “high-difficulty routine” scripts require more time than your average script. You’re not going to be able to bang one of these out in the same amount of time it takes to write Cloverfield Lane. The logistics behind interconnecting so many characters and story threads alone is going to add an untold number of hours. So I’d never say don’t write a script like this. But if you do, be prepared for the extra work. Cause stories like this are a logistical nightmare.
And one of the things that happens when you have to juggle so many balls is that you miss opportunities. You miss potentially great story directions because your eyes are looking in so many places at once.
That happened with Alejandro and Isabel, the daughter. I liked how Sheridan formed a reluctant bond between the two. Their equally tough and selfish demeanors made for an interesting dynamic. As a result, their storyline had the potential to do some great things.
Keep in mind we established Alejandro as a ruthless killer at the beginning of the script. He doesn’t give a shit about anybody and will kill anyone if that’s what the job requires. Imagine, then, after Alejandro retrieves Isabel, he’s given the directive by Matt to kill her. This is actually what the story hints at, since Matt’s boss is telling him that, under no circumstances can that girl get to the press. Here Alejandro is, finally, for the first time in his life, connecting with somebody. Then he’s given the order to kill her. What does he do?
But that’s not the route the story takes. Alejandro simply tells Matt, “I’m going to bring her to you” and we focus more on Alejandro teaching the sheltered Isabel what the “real” world is like (the two have to sneak across the border together). That is a MAJOR missed opportunity as far as I’m concerned. They could’ve gotten so much more out of it. And maybe they would’ve after a few drafts. Hell, maybe they DID after a few more drafts. That’d be a nice surprise.
However, that’s my big beef with Sicario 2. Taylor Sheridan has earned his spot on the A-list. He writes movies that don’t have superheroes, creepy clowns, or The Rock in them – the types of movies that don’t do well theatrically anymore – and he gets people to show up. But a story as ambitious and cool as this needed more development. And as Sheridan’s star rises, I’m not sure he has time for that anymore. He might need to branch out into producing and get writers to flesh these stories out.
Anyway, lots of potential here. But that potential fell short of the border. :(
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I once showed a friend of mine a picture of my dream house. It was this giant southern mansion with this sprawling emerald green yard. I sent it to her and said, “This is my dream home.” She replied back. “But who’s going to mow that lawn?” I laughed but her comment has always stuck with me. The bigger the house, the bigger the lawn you have to mow. And that was the case here. You can be ambitious. You can take on the world. But it’s going to take a lot more time to mow that lawn.