WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Sicario: Day of the Soldado, in theaters now.
When Denis Villeneuve introduced fans to Sicario in 2015, it wasn't until the end of the film that we learned just what was hitman Alejandro Gillick’s (Benicio del Toro) motivation for helping the U.S. government hunt Mexico's Alarcón cartel. Taking this empire down would grant Colombia's Medellín cartel a bigger share of the drug market (which allowed America easier control), but there was also a more personal reason.
Alejandro wanted to kill the leader, Fausto, who ordered the hit on his family years before, turning him into this mysterious assassin. That was all we found out, as it was never revealed just how Alejandro began working the special task force led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) on these revenge missions.
However, the sequel Sicario: Day of the Soldado dives a bit further into Alejandro's past, painting a darker, secret-filled origin than first thought.
In Soldado, Alejandro and Matt kidnap young Isabela Reyes, the daughter of another crime lord, Carlos, to frame the Matamoros and turn both cartels on each other. They take her to a Texas holding facility and when both parties go to war, they try to slip her back home. Things fall apart thanks to corrupt Mexican cops, and when Matt's forced to desert Alejandro and Isabela, their journey together sheds more light into the hitman's backstory.
We learn Isabela's father was the one who ordered Fausto to kill the assassin's family. It was all part of a message he wanted to send Alejandro, a criminal lawyer at the time who prosecuted against drug dealers domestically. With Fausto dead, Alejandro now wanted Carlos, which is why he agreed to go after the Reyes family, although he begins to warm up to Isabela towards the end as she reminded him of his deceased daughter.
We never learn the daughter's name but when a deaf man, Angel, and his family, help the duo try to make it back to the American border to ensure their survival, Alejandro divulges his daughter was deaf too, which is why he's able to sign with Angel and garner aid. It's one of the franchise's most sentimental moments and truly makes the audience empathize with the assassin's grief.
Lo and behold, there's a bigger swerve waiting in Soldado's final act when Matt's boss, Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener), instructs the task force to go "clean up their mess" by killing Alejandro and Isabela. The botched mission has turned into a political conflict as dead Mexican cops and gangsters may be traced back to the Department of Defense. When Matt tries to talk her out of it, she reveals they "made Alejandro" and they "can go make another," because there are "a dozen grieving fathers just like him across that border."
Matt's disheartened at how she's treating Alejandro, but there's an even more telling moment in their debate. He tells her, "... not like him. We're not able to create another one like him [Alejandro]." At first it seems he's merely referring to equipping Alejandro with the tools, skills and opportunities to kill crime bosses, but as he goes further into why they shouldn't kill their lead assassin, he hints they were the ones who actually manipulated affairs which led to Alejandro's family dying.
Given how they tricked the Reyes and Matamoro families, it's easy to see them helping facilitate the deaths of innocents in order to create sicarios (aka hitmen) to be used as weapons in the war on drugs. After all, if Soldado taught us anything, this special ops unit is all about pitting Mexico's own against each other. It's not confirmed just how deep-rooted Matt's actions were but the fact he carries out Alejandro's 'final' wish -- to retrieve and take Isabela into witness protection -- indicates he's making up for a guilty past, as opposed to being heroic.
In theaters now, director Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado stars Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Jeffrey Donovan reprising their roles, with Isabela Moner, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Catherine Keener.