Guns blaz­ing as Del Toro and Brolin work the bor­der

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

Sick as it sounds, “Si­cario: Day of the Soldado” is the lucky ben­e­fi­ciary of ev­ery bel­liger­ent tweet, cry­ing child and po­lit­i­cal point scored in the chaos of the cur­rent Mex­ico/U.S. bor­der cri­sis.

At its mean, snake­like best, it’s also a bru­tally as­sured com­mer­cial ac­tion pic­ture, un­bur­dened by the moral qualms or un­nerv­ing am­bi­gu­ity of its pre­de­ces­sor.

Both fac­tors may help it find a larger in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence than “Si­cario” (2015), writ­ten, as is the se­quel, by Tay­lor Sheri­dan. He’s the man be­hind the Os­car-nom­i­nated “Hell or High Wa­ter” (2016) and “Wind River” (2017) as well. His scripts make a strong ar­gu­ment for Sheri­dan be­ing the premier Western re­vival­ist in Amer­i­can movies.

The two “Si­cario” films rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent ven­tures. The new one makes no room for an eth­i­cally con­flicted fe­male pro­tag­o­nist — Emily Blunt’s FBI agent in di­rec­tor De­nis Vil­len­veue’s orig­i­nal.

The “Day of the Soldado” sub­ti­tle makes it plain: The right­eous U.S.sanc­tioned war­riors played by Josh Brolin and Beni­cio Del Toro are run­ning things now, mow­ing down drug car­tel goons and Mex­i­can fed­erales with im­punity while re­veal­ing their softer, more car­ing sides along the way.

The pro­logue sets the stakes, and plays like the stray imag­in­ings of our cur­rent pres­i­dent. Along the Mex­ico/U.S. bor­der, a car­tel-paid coy­ote leads a group of mi­grants across a river. U.S. bor­der pa­trol he­li­copters and ground ve­hi­cles pre­pare for an­other roundup. One mi­grant, how­ever, is re­vealed to be a MPAA rating: R (for strong vi­o­lence, bloody im­ages, and lan­guage) Run­ning time: 2:03 Opens: Fri­day sui­cide bomber.

This is fol­lowed by a se­cond ter­ror­ist at­tack on Amer­i­can soil, in­side a store in Kansas City. For a few ex­cru­ci­at­ing sec­onds, di­rec­tor Ste­fano Sol­lima’s cam­era lingers on a mother and a child, on the other side of the sliding glass en­try doors, plead­ing for their lives. En­sur­ing the au­di­ence will con­sent to ev­ery form of re­tal­ia­tory good-guy vi­o­lence, these early sec­tions know ex­actly what they’re do­ing, for bet­ter or worse.

A hard­ened black ops spe­cial­ist, CIA agent Matt Graver (Brolin) gets the go-ahead from his su­pe­ri­ors to pro­voke an in­tra­mu­rual war among the pow­er­ful car­tels. Graver reteams with Medellin at­tor­ney­turned-as­sas­sin-for-hire Ale­jan­dro Gil­lick (Del Toro), whose fam­ily was wiped out by a ri­val king­pin. The mis­sion: kid­nap a drug lord’s 12-year-old daugh­ter, Is­abela (Is­abela Moner), frame a ri­val gang for the kid­nap­ping — and watch the en­su­ing car­nage.

But there are per­sonal reck­on­ings en route to “mis­sion ac­com­plished.” A Mex­i­can am­bush on the kid­nap­pers leaves blood all over a stretch of ru­ral high­way. The hor­ri­fied Is­abela takes off, with Ale­jan­dro in pur­suit. The hit man (aka “si­cario”) had a daugh­ter of his own, once, and in Is­abela he sees a sur­ro­gate and a chance at re­demp­tion.

The solid if un­spec­tac­u­lar box of­fice suc­cess of the first “Si­cario” wouldn’t typ­i­cally merit a fol­low-up. But Sheri­dan and his pro­duc­ers sensed a hunger for a straight-up genre ex­er­cise. Al­ready some have de­clared it su­pe­rior to the orig­i­nal. I’m not one of them, though Brolin and Del Toro are first-rate. I first saw “Day of the Soldado” four months ago, well be­fore the wails of chil­dren sep­a­rated from their bor­der-cross­ing fam­i­lies were heard around the world. I saw it again the other day. Its newly ac­quired top­i­cal­ity lends an air of in­flated im­por­tance. It is, af­ter all and fi­nally, con­tent to do its dirty job well enough, be­fore mov­ing on to the next mis­sion. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune critic.


Beni­cio Del Toro stars in “Si­cario: Day of the Soldado.”

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