Current events add a layer of provocative subtext to Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which features the kidnapping of a child for leverage in a high-stakes sociopolitical conflict.
However, this ultraviolent sequel to the 2015 thriller manages just fine on its own, providing another immersive and suspenseful story about the ongoing battle between Mexican drug cartels, American border enforcement officials, and the people on both sides caught in between.
As the film opens, the cartels have expanded their operations and started smuggling terrorists across the border into the United States. That leads federal agent Matt (Josh Brolin) to Somalia for a round of high-pressure interrogation.
After learning of the connection between Mexico and the Middle East, Matt returns to Texas with a top-secret plan — blessed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) — to escalate the conflict between feuding crime families. He reunites with shady operative Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) who agrees to abduct the teenage daughter (Isabela Moner) of the drug kingpin who killed Alejandro’s family, then frame a rival cartel for the disappearance.
However, once Matt and his team venture south of the border, things don’t go as planned, putting their own lives in danger amid a harsh landscape with no rules.
While not as gritty or powerful as its predecessor, which was superbly rendered by director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049), this North American debut for Italian filmmaker Stefano Sollima still is consistently intriguing and harrowing as it emphasizes action over politics.
Likewise, the bilingual screenplay by Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) in some ways lacks the fresh perspective of the first film, although it does capture the moral ambiguity and perpetual frustration for the combatants in a perilous border war during which diplomacy takes a backseat to brute force, without yielding a clear-cut path to resolution.
Even if the film doesn’t maintain a deeper emotional connection amid its complex character dynamics, the performances are solid among returnees and newcomers alike. Del Toro conveys the loose-cannon recklessness that made Alejandro so mesmerizing in the original film, while Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight) blends strength and vulnerability as a resilient pawn.
Day of the Soldado is narratively messy and convoluted, but then again, so is the true-life backdrop behind this fictional saga that hits close to home.