Sicario 2: Soldado - worthy sequel doubles down on action
Sicario 2: Soldado
Expectations have been high since the popular reception for the first Sicario, so Italian director Stefano Sollima arguably had big boots to fill when he took over from Denis Villeneuve.
His efforts do not disappoint. Notably, the director sets and maintains an impressive action pace throughout the nearly two-hour film.
The opening few minutes show 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. 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, but the relationship between her and Graver, whatever it is, could be expanded upon.
Sollima shows off the New Mexico landscape 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 doesn't shy away from featuring hard-hitting issues such as immigration. There's a complexity to Sheridan's characters that keeps you guessing.
As a viewer, you are left hoping Sheridan's next move will be to write a third film
Leave No Trace: Moving meditation on family bonds
Adapted from Peter Rock's novel My Abandonment, Leave No Trace is a restrained yet profoundly moving portrait of the indomitable spirit that binds backwoods communities in the face of poverty and bureaucratic meddling.
The film is shot through the inquisitive eyes of a teenage girl who has been home-schooled since birth by her fiercely protective father, and has never been allowed to integrate with other children.
Leave No Trace explores bonds between troubled parents and resourceful children living on the fringes of society, and the harsh sacrifices that are sometimes made in the name of love.
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie beautifully conveys her character's fierce loyalty to her father and the pent-up grief and confusion that ultimately sets her free on the path to womanhood.
She plays Tom, who has learnt to live off the land and avoid detection thanks to her old man Will (Foster).
Occasionally, father and daughter traipse into town to collect Will's prescribed medication for his post-traumatic stress disorder, which the war veteran then sells to pay for the essentials.
A jogger catches a glimpse of Tom in the undergrowth and authorities storm the forest with sniffer dogs. Jean (Dana Millican), a social worker, relocates the pair to a farm as it is illegal to live on public land.
Will fells trees and Tom experiences the first pangs of hormone-addled curiosity about a boy.
However, the personal demons that drove Will into the wilderness beckon him to return.
Leave No Trace is a deeply affecting meditation on unconventional parenting, which leaves an indelible mark on the heart and provokes animated debate about whether Will's rejection of suburban comforts is ultimately in his child's best interests.
Granik's picture lacks an emotional crescendo or anything that comes close to narrative thrust.
The tormented characters don't know where they are going, but there is both beauty and heart-breaking simplicity in the gentle ebb and flow of their odyssey.