Film review: Sicario 2: Soldado lives up to expectations after bar set high by original

Benicio del Toro as lawyer-turned-assassin Alejandro in Sicario 2: Soldado
Kerri-Ann Roper

EXPECTATIONS were high following the Oscar-nominated 2015 action movie Sicario, the story of a ruthless assassin working in cahoots with US law enforcement agents, so director Stefano Sollima arguably had big boots to fill when he took over from Denis Villeneuve for the sequel.

The Italian, best known for hit Naples-set television crime drama Gomorrah, doesn't disappoint, setting and maintaining an impressive pace throughout the nearly two-hour running time.

The opening few minutes show three suicide bombers detonating their vests inside a supermarket, which sets the tone; there's no respite from the barrage of gunfire and action that follows.

Josh Brolin returns as CIA operative Matt Graver alongside Benicio del Toro, who reprises his role as lawyer-turned-hitman Alejandro, the pair making for a formidable force.

Tasked by the US government to find out if Mexican drug cartels are trafficking terrorists across the border, they concoct a plan to ignite a cartel bloodbath by kidnapping Isabela Reyes, the young daughter of one of the big drug bosses.

Transformers actress Isabela Moner (16) is impressive as the gutsy, headstrong Reyes and she more than holds her own in the company of 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, though the relationship between her and Graver, whatever it is, could have been expanded upon. The few brief scenes between Keener's and Brolin's characters 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 that have most impact.

Oscar winner Del Toro's penetrating silent stare is something to behold and it's something Sollima wisely uses 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.

Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan matches Sollima in boldness and has written a script that doesn't shy away from featuring hard-hitting issues. 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.

SICARIO 2: SOLDADO (15, 122 mins). Thriller/Action. Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Catherine Keener, Christopher Heyerdahl, Matthew Modine, Isabela Moner. Director: Stefano Sollima

RATING: 8/10

Released: June 29 (UK & Ireland)

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