Triple Frontier | J.C. Chandor | March 13, 2019 (Netflix)
Triple Frontier, the latest from director J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All Is Lost) feels like the sort of macho action heist film one would expect to find in the 90s. The story sees five former Special Forces operatives and good friends reunite in order to partake in a heist that will result in a pretty big cash haul, with a cast built around some pretty big star power.
Santiago Garcia (Star Wars‘ Oscar Isaac) works as a private military advisor in Colombia, on the hunt for a crime lord named Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos). He finds out from Yovanna (Adria Arjona), an informant working in Lorea’s ranks, that Lorea trusts no one and keeps all his millions of drug money safely in his house in the middle of the jungle. He returns home to find his old special operatives buddies and get the team back together for one last job. Sound familiar?
The team includes Tom “Redfly” David (the now-former Batman Ben Affleck) who is struggling as a realtor, William “Ironhead” Miller (Pacific Rim‘s Charlie Hunnam) now giving motivation speeches to fellow soldiers, his brother Ben (Mudbound‘s Garrett Hedlund) who takes a pounding participating in MMA fights, and Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Game of Thrones‘ Pedro Pascal), a pilot who is currently in hot water for drug use.
In most heist movies, the act of pulling off the heist is understandably the big climactic moment. While it still is pulled off in a suspenseful fashion here, it actually comes during the second act, leaving plenty of time to follow what comes after. This surprising turn was an interesting move that goes in an unexpected direction, which turns out to be both a pleasant surprise but also is where Triple Frontier comes up short.
The script, which Chandor co-wrote with Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and Detroit writer Mark Boal, frames them as familiar yet likable tough guys who need some convincing to join Santiago on this dangerous mission. They know it’s a risk but don’t have much waiting for them at home or thanking them for their service to say no to a big fat payday. It tackles noble topics such as the way we treat our veterans in America, as well as how tough it can be for them to turn off being a soldier and try to integrate back into civilian life where they can barely make ends meet.
Tackling themes of greed and corruption aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. But here, Chandor shows the temptation of greed for men who are used to serving for honor on behalf of their country. But here, these characters are forced to confront the idealistic reasons they used to use their skillset and come to terms with what sort of acts they may turn to if it means taking home a copious amount of cash. Things, of course, don’t go well for them post-heist, but it never quite tells these aspects of the story as confidently as it pulls off the actual heist.
The standout performance here comes from Affleck, who dives into a dark shadow of sadness that is understandable and grounded. He initially is hesitant to say yes to Santiago but soon becomes tired of the hand that he has been dealt after sacrificing everything for his country. His character is perhaps the one who makes the most abrupt change during and after the heist is pulled off and Affleck perfectly portrays the dark layers of depths that he is battling. Isaac is perfectly capable as the leading man, but he and the rest of the gang never quite emerge as much more than the characters that the script originally draws up for them.
While it never quite finds a steady footing during its second half, there’s enough tension felt in Triple Frontier to keep it together and hold your interest. Chandor’s talent behind the lens shines through even if this script isn’t as consistent, but with such a talented cast, there’s more than enough working to make Triple Frontier an action thriller that subverts your expectations, for better or worse.