Director Stefano Sollima makes his American film debut with Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the follow-up to 2015’s dark drug trafficking drama Sicario.
This time around, two of the first movie’s three stars — Josh Brolin as federal agent Matt Graver and Benicio del Toro as mysterious assassin Alejandro Gillick — are back (Emily Blunt’s FBI agent is not) and attempting to start a war between two cartels by kidnapping the daughter of one cartel’s leader and making it seem like the other organization did the deed. But as you might imagine, things don’t quite go according to plan.
While writer Taylor Sheridan has envisioned Sicario has ultimately being a trilogy, the first film’s director, Denis Villeneuve, was unable to return to the sequel due to prior commitments. That’s where Sollima comes in, with a natural affinity for the material: a former news cameraman, his film and TV work in his native Italy (including the Gomorrah and Romanzo Criminale TV series, as well as the films Suburra and A.C.A.B.) all deal with the intersection of law and the criminal underworld.
Den of Geek spoke with Sollima about making his first English-language film, working with Brolin and Del Toro, delving into the murky world of the border and how his previous occupation influenced the striking work he’s doing as a filmmaker today.
Den of Geek: How you got involved in the movie?
Stefano Sollima: I was working on another project with the same producer, Black Label Media. Then they just give me the early draft of Soldado. I read it and it blew my mind, so I said, “It’s wonderful. It’s great.” They explained to me that their idea was to create a sort of fresh, new kind of trilogy by having three different movies based on some of the same characters and for sure in the same world. The script was also really close to everything I did in my career until then.
You have done a lot of stuff on Italian film and television regarding law and crime and the criminal underworld. How is that similar to the world you are looking at here?
I think more the narrative approach to the story, more than the location. What I liked very much in the script was the idea to have an ensemble movie without any moral point of view to guide the audience. This is exactly what I did in all my life. You have anti-heroes that are moving in a brutal world and this is what I’ve already done in my career. So it was pretty close to my style and this is the reason why I was interested to be on board.
Did you feel, once you started working with Taylor, that your directorial style meshed well with his writing?
Absolutely. Yes. I like very, very much his style. I like the way he creates and builds tension. And then I like his straight-to-the point dialogue. So, I admire his work and enjoyed working with him.
This is your first English language film and first for an American studio. What was different about that from the work you did back home?
The only thing that was worrying in the beginning was to lose some of my specificity in the transition. Because, of course, I mean, you have a bigger budget, you have lots of studio execs involved in the creative process. So let’s say that I was worried to lose my touch in the process. But I haven’t. I think I was lucky to work with these producers. But I didn’t lose anything of my touch and I think I got the best result I can get from the experience.
You shot in a lot of remote locations, mostly in New Mexico. What was challenging about those places?
I love to shoot in practical locations. I try to avoid to re-create environments on a stage. It’s challenging to be in the desert shooting at night or at noon when it is super warm and you need to drive two hours to get to your location, but I essentially believe that all the experience you have on set, in a way it stays in the frame. The film has this incredible capacity to absorb all the emotions that are around the camera. Even when you are shooting.
So, of course it was a bit challenging, because some of the places were really inhospitable. But, on the other hand they were so amazing and so beautiful, that now they are part of the movie. Also, for example, for the desert I slightly changed my way of shooting because of the width of the space around me. So, I think it’s part of the experience that is going to affect the movie at the end.
What did Benicio and Josh bring to the film? How are they different to each other or similar to each other in their approach?
They are completely different in their approach. They are two amazing actors. They have completely different skills and they are, as human beings, two marvelous person. So it was really an honor to work with them. But they are completely different. For example, Benicio is totally immersed in what he’s doing and he studied a lot. To watch him immersing in a character it’s really an experience.
And Josh has an incredible skill that he always knows where his character and all the other characters are in the specific moment he is shooting. He has this unique skill to really understand all the movie, not just his role. I was a fan of the two before I start working with them. So, it was really an amazing experience.
You started as a cameraman reporting from war zones and places like that. How does that inform or influence the filmmaking you do today?
I think a lot. I learned from my job as a journalist that the truth is something really difficult to find. Sometimes to understand and to find the real truth you have to struggle a lot and sometimes you have to force yourself to change your point of view. This is probably the reason why I like to tell stories without putting my moral point of view on it.
Also, I think I took from my previous job the idea that in order to portray something correctly, you have to study it a lot. So I do a lot of research and documentation before starting a project.
What would you like audiences to take away from this film?
I don’t think that a movie is the right medium to send a message. I think it’s more, a smart movie is there to entertain you and makes you think a bit about the world that is surrounding you. But for me, it’s not about giving an answer, but putting some questions in your mind.
You’re going back to sort of the criminal world with a series you have created called ZeroZeroZero.
It’s an eight-episode mini-series for Studio Canal, Sky and Amazon. It’s basically a story on drug trafficking, but it’s more a sort of take on globalization. So it’s more about understanding how, the smuggling and transportation of the cocaine all around the world is affecting the real economy. So it follows a cargo shipment all around the world and seeing how the simple smuggling or the laundering of the money is affecting the economy all over the world. So, I think it’s an interesting new take on narco-trafficking.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is out in theaters now.