Benicio del Toro reprises the role of Alejandro in the ‘Sicario’ sequel, but this time we see more than a man hell-bent on revenge, writes
Benicio del Toro is looking friendly, relaxed and approachable. Given some of the gritty characters he has played over the years, the last description may not be one any of them would approve of.
The 51-year-old Puerto Rican-born star, famed for his multi-layered characters in films such as The Usual Suspects, 21 Grams and more recently in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, returns to the big screen with more acting alchemy in his role as lawyer turned hitman in the second instalment of the Sicario films titled Soldado.
Fresh from the first film where his character Alejandro was hell-bent on revenge after the murder of his family by the drug cartels, this film sees him teaming up with another returning hard man character, Josh Brolin, who reprises his role as federal agent Matt Graver.
"We see the beginnings of his rehabilitation,” del Toro muses from the London hotel where we’re meeting to talk about the film and about how much we’ll start to fathom Alejandro’s complex nature.
"I think we start to see that there’s a conscience inside of this hitman or this man with so much pain that in the first film we met a person who was bent on vengeance.”
This time Alejandro and Graver plot the kidnap of a young girl, Isabela Reyes, the daughter of a drug cartel boss (played by 16-year-old Isabela Moner of Transformers: The Last Knight fame) on the orders of the American government who suspect the Mexican drug cartels are trafficking terrorists across the Mexican border into the US.
As such, an element of the film that will likely grab headlines centres around families from Mexico trying to cross the border illegally into the US.
It is a storyline that is eerily close to the immigration furore that has grabbed international headlines for nearly two weeks.
Following intense criticism over the family-separation situation that arose, President Donald Trump reversed the policy to stop families entering the US illegally at the Mexican border from being ripped apart.
Did del Toro ever imagine the script would come so close to being echoed in reality?
He admits the timing is “weird”.
I don’t know how it will affect the film, the release of the film,” he says.
"The timing — we can’t control that, it’s like the weather. But these issues and these problems they’ve being going on for a long time and there’s got to be a solution that needs to be fair, a solution with empathy.
"I think most of these families, when they make that decision to leave their own country, their culture, their language, to go to another country where they don’t know anybody, with nothing, I think people think that’s an easy decision.
"That’s not an easy decision,” he says emphatically. "That’s a really scary decision and when people put themselves in that situation, you have to be in a really horrible place to make that decision.”
"I think people forget that these are human beings with a heart and a lot of them are desperate for help.” The film’s Italian director, Stefano Sollima, says the subject matter of human trafficking is one that strikes a chord beyond the US and Mexico.
He said: “I think this is a topic that’s actually real all over the world. Not just in the US. It’s the same in Europe.
"It’s how people are trying to escape from really poor places, and the dream to be in another place where they hope to have a better life.
"Yet unfortunately, this is rarely the case.”
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who also penned the first film and returned for the second, is full of praise for Sollima.
"It’s very realistic and it’s very unsentimental,” he says, “We don’t want to glorify the violence and we don’t want to trivialise what people are going through.
"And so you need a filmmaker who’s unflinching, who’s not afraid to show some of these shocking things that take place, and yet is not going to enhance them for the sake of the story.”
The story takes a nail-biting turn that sees both Alejandro and Graver faced with a burdensome decision.
Does del Toro think Alejandro attains any sort of moral redemption in the choices he ends up making?
I don’t know where he’ll go, that’s up to the writer, but I do believe at least we feel there is a moral redemption.
"But is he innocent? He’s not innocent, he’s committed crimes, but we can spare his life,” he muses.
Brolin, who turned 50 earlier this year, says the storyline is respectful.
"Sicario 2: Soldado takes very real scenarios and real possibilities, and even a real current event, and turning it into a condensed story that I think is beautiful, tragic, and has incredible scope,” he states.
“And it’s respectful, respectful of the emotions that people go through.”
The ending hints at a third instalment, something del Toro would heartily approve of.
"When I talked to Taylor during the filming of Soldado, he confessed to me that he always saw the Sicario movies as a trilogy and so you know, we took that second step so hopefully we’ll move to the third step.
"I’m really interested to see where the writer would take this story and the characters.”
- Sicario 2: Soldado is released in UK cinemas on June 29