Fast-paced terrorist thriller hits on relevant issues
Film review: Sicario 2: Soldado (15), 8/10
Expectations were high following the popular reception of 2015's Sicario film, so Italian director Stefano Sollima arguably had big boots to fill when he took over from Denis Villeneuve for the sequel.
His efforts do not disappoint. Notably the director, famed for Italian TV crime drama Gomorrah, sets and maintains an impressive action pace throughout the nearly two-hour film.
The opening few minutes shows three suicide bombers detonating their vests inside a supermarket, which sets the tone, and there is no respite from the barrage of gunfire and action that follows.
Josh Brolin returns as CIA operative Matt Graver and alongside Benicio del Toro, who reprises his role as lawyer turned hitman Alejandro, the pair are a formidable on-screen force.
Tasked by the American government to find out if Mexican drug cartels are trafficking terrorists across the American border, they concoct a plan to ignite a cartel bloodshed by kidnapping Isabela Reyes, the young daughter of one of the big cartel bosses.
Transformers actress Isabela Moner, 16, is impressive as the gutsy, headstrong character and she more than holds her own against her seasoned co-stars - so much so that in one particularly brutal shoot-out scene, you find yourself searching for her character among the chaos.
Screen veteran Catherine Keener is likeable as CIA deputy director Cynthia Foard and the relationship between her and Graver, whatever it is, could be expanded upon. The few brief scenes between her and Brolin's character are good, and it's a coupling that definitely deserves more screen time.
Sollima shows off the New Mexico landscape where filming took place with a few lavish wide shots, but it's really his tight focus on the characters' faces in certain moments that have the most impact.
Del Toro hasn't lost his ability to penetrate the big screen with a silent stare that says more than a thousand words, and Sollima wisely uses this to full effect.
Elements of the storyline - notably families trying to cross illegally from Mexico into the US - are eerily close to the headlines that have been dominating world news for the past few weeks.
Script writer Taylor Sheridan matches Sollima in boldness and has written a script that doesn't shy away from featuring hard-hitting issues such as immigration. There's a complexity to Sheridan's characters that keeps you guessing and you're never quite sure what their next move will be.
As a viewer though, you are left hoping Sheridan's next move will be to write a third film.