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‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ and the Idea of the Immersive Action Sequence

"The challenge there is even in a huge action sequence, to always be with your characters and have their point of view in the action."

“With the luck and timing that always go with talent, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has come up with an uncompromisingly fierce thriller that involves the US government separating a Mexican father from his child as part of a plan to crack down on illegal border crossings,” Peter Bradshaw says of Sicario: Day of the Soldado. “He and Italian director Stefano Sollima have collaborated on a horribly gripping sequel to Sheridan’s 2015 Mexican cartel picture Sicario.To read the full article, click here

Sheridan explains, “There’s a changing landscape in America as far as the legalization of certain drugs, and an infusion of prescription drugs becoming recreational drugs of choice, that has left the cartels looking for a new product to sell. And I look at what that product is.” That product is human lives, trafficking people across the border.

“This is where the war on drugs has gone, and it’s dark and heartbreaking, but powerful,” adds the film’s producer Molly Smith. “It’s very real.”

“I tend to gravitate towards the concept of the anti-hero, and how the motivation behind a character doing something seemingly bad is never simple,” says Sollima. “There is often a very fine line between criminality and law enforcement. [Sheridan’s] characters gave me an opportunity to create a piece of entertainment that also deals with my fascination with the grey areas of law and order in a really intelligent way,”

The topic of human trafficking resonated with Sollima: “I think this is a topic that’s actually real all over the world. Not just here in the U.S. 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.”

Telling this story, Sollima continues, “gave me a chance to use action and, in particular, physical effects, rather than visual effects, to put the actors in the moment and help dramatize the tough issues in the story. It’s one of my favorite ways to work.”

“We’re doing wide shots, close-ups. We definitely are trying to show a scale,” the film’s cinematographer Dariusz Wolski says. “We’re putting the characters into big conflicts in the environment, in the desert, in the border crossings.

The way Sollima planned it, Wolski would shoot “long, long takes, and stay with our characters, so we are not going to lose the characters even in the super massive moments of the movie.

The longest action sequence was a Humvee convoy ambush that occurs about halfway through the movie. Long takes of elaborate action were choreographed, then shot using dolly track, with numerous characters, machine gun fire and explosions all captured with raw realism. 

Says Sollima, “The challenge there is even in a huge action sequence, to always be with your characters and have their point of view in the action.”

Day of the Soldado has an incredible amount of action sequences, and I don’t like to shoot action for action,” Sollima tells Brian Davids. “I’m not interested in action sequences because of explosions or gunshots; I’m interested in action sequences when they highlight the characters and give you more information on those characters. 

“Our biggest task was to design incredibly complex action sequences involving our main characters. For example, the mall sequence has a long tracking shot, and it gives you the impression that you’re experiencing the scene since there are no cuts.” To read the full interview, click here.

“Instead of trying to cover all the action,” Sollima explains to Daniel Eagan, “we shot the battle from the point of view of the girl [12-year-old Isabela, played by Isabela Moner]. Put her in the middle and observe her, in a long tracking shot without cutting. Create a scene where everything is confused and really scary, where you never leave her. It’s a long sequence where you are in the back of the Humvee, everything exploding around you.” To read the full interview, click here.

[The] movie was based on the idea to a build a constant, even slow, tension,” Sollima tells Joe Deckelemeier. “To get to some point where you have an explosion, super-fast, super quick, explosion of evidence. But I think that then basically the tension is to manage in the editing room while you’re shooting the timing of everything. By giving the impression to the audience that something is going to happen for sure. And trying to delay as much as you can, the moment where something happened for real. 

“I think it’s something that you achieve from the script, of course, the brilliant script of Taylor Sheridan. And then you do it while you’re shooting. And then you keep doing in the editing without for example the music. This creates this tension. You know that something is going to happen, but you don’t know when and what.” To read the full interview, click here

“I look at editing as sort of a final draft,” Sollima says to Eagan, “the final rewrite of the movie. From the script through shooting, you can change things. But with editing it’s the moment when you can rewrite the movie. You finally find the right rhythm, you cut everything that’s unnecessary. For me it’s probably the most enjoyable part, because it’s pure creativity.” To read the full interview, click here.