In 2015, Taylor Sheridan debuted the first film in his “Frontier Trilogy” – Sicario. Dark and intense, the film told the story of FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who volunteers to be part of a government task force to bring down the leader of a powerful and brutal Mexican drug cartel.
Sheridan followed this up with Hell or High Water and Wind River, films that explored similar themes of fathers facing failure in a contemporary Western setting.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado continues the narrative of the first film without the key ingredient of Blunt.
We open on the US Mexican border as a bunch of Mexicans are attempting to cross under cover of darkness. A patrolling helicopter helps a ground team to apprehend the group, except for one member who detonates a suicide vest before he can be arrested.
More suicide bombers target a supermarket in Texas and the US government promises a response that will come with the full “weight of the military”.
We jump to the Gulf of Somalia where we are reintroduced to Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, a shadowy government operative who was a key player in the first film and is here again to terrorise a suspect into coughing up information about the suicide bombings.
We cut back to the US Mexico border to meet a teenager looking to make some money as part of a people smuggling group working for the cartels.
The film manages to inject a fair deal of the tension that was present in the first instalment where a sense of foreboding is ever present. Even the sound of an unseen approaching school bus is haunting.
Matt meanwhile is back in Washington meeting with the DOJ to discuss the fact that 20 tears ago the most valuable commodity the cartel traffics in was cocaine, but now it is people.
Under the interpretation of terrorism laws int he US, the drug cartels are being classified as a terrorist group beacuse they “use violence to achieve a political goal”.
Matt concocts a plan to start a war amongst the cartels to let them kill each other off and he travels to Colombia to recruit the South American Brad Pitt – Benecio Del Toro, reprising his role from the first film as the anguished hitman Alejandro, who lost his family to the drug cartels and is still seeking vengeance.
There is a lot of ground to cover in setting up this story and as a result the pacing suffers and the movie takes almost an hour to get going.
Once the ball is rolling and the main mission gets underway south of the border to kidnap the daughter of the head of the biggest cartel, the film finds the right gear and barely lets up as the US team attempts the abduction and finds that just like in the first movie, it is impossible to trust anybody in Mexico, including the officials.
A scene in the countryside with a deaf peasant helps to humanise a couple of the harder characters and from there it is a white knuckle ride to a bloody and brutal climax.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado does it’s best work when it plays personal and intimate as we get a sense of the high stakes involved for the various characters. Without that human side, the film could be any number of military/espionage themed thrillers.
There may be no Blunt, but there is a star female performance from Isabela Moner as the kidnapped daughter, who is tough as nails and will make for an interesting Dora the Explorer – her next big role.
It was always going to be a tough job to replicate the sheer intensity of the first film, particularly without Blunt, but the filmmakers give it a red hot go, and watching Brolin and del Toro strut their stuff in the desert makes for an entertaining couple of hours.
Given Brolin’s recent turns as the “Go-To” bad guy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you get the sense that his character might be prepared to go to extreme lengths, and in this one, he does get super heavy.
Scorching Sequel Delivers Brutally Intense Thrills – 3 & 1/2 Stars.