No MPAA rating, 125 mins.
2019, No MPAA rating, 125 mins.
Ben Affleck as Tom "Redfly" Davis / Oscar Isaac as Santiago "Pope" Garcia / Charlie Hunnam as William "Iron Head" Miller / Pedro Pascal as Francisco "Catfish" Morales / Garrett Hedlund as Ben Miller / Adria Arjona as Yovanna / Sheila Vand as Lauren Yates
Directed by J.C. Chandor / Written by Mark Boal and Chandor
The new Netflix original film TRIPLE FRONTIER boasts some serious talent behind the scenes. We have screenwriter Mark Boal, who previously penned and produced ZERO DARK THIRTY as well as winning an Oscar for his script for the Best Picture awarded THE HURT LOCKER. Behind the camera for TRIPLE FRONTIER is J.C. Chandor, best known for one of the best outdoor survival films ever made in 2013's ALL IS LOST and previous to that he helmed the very decent MARGIN CALL and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR.
With these two
superlative creative minds calling the shots, TRIPLE FRONTIER approaches
event status film levels, in my mind, that would rival any theatrically
released fare. That, and it also boasts a truly superb ensemble cast
as well as a fairly ambitious men on a mission storyline that takes
some surprising detours.
Chandor's film is also a handsomely produced and gritty visceral
thriller that, despite awkwardly constructed opening sections built on
wobbly writing, really picks up steam half way through.
And, wow, this
cast is indeed great.
The ever versatile Oscar Isaac (who also appeared in A
MOST VIOLENT YEAR for Chandor) plays Santiago "Pope"
Garcia, a disheartened ex-military man turned merc for hire that has lost
his moral ways in a three year effort to bring a Brazilian drug kingpin to
Not only has he taken to use questionable methods (like using his
informant lover - played by Arian Arjona - to put her in harms way), but
he grows increasingly fed up with the lack of results from local law
Not being able to stand his working conditions, Santiago decides to
journey back home to America to persuade his best former Special Forces
buddies to launch a fiendishly clever, yet dangerous plan to steal $75
million from drug czar's heavily fortified jungle compound.
Seeing as he has done the necessary reconnaissance for quite some
time, Santiago knows every possible vantage point to gain access to the
loot; all he needs is a squad he can trust.
That's kind of
the hard part, though.
Initially, his completely down on his luck pal in Tom "Redfly"
Davis (Ben Affleck) doesn't want in, but with an abysmal career of failure
in real estate on the home front wearing down on his soul, he begrudgingly
accepts Santiago's offer.
Also in is a military motivational speaker in William "Ironhead"
Miller (Charlie Hunnam) and his younger sibling Ben (Garrett Hedlund), who
now makes ends meet by being an MMA fighter.
Rounding off the team is Francisco "Catfish" Mor (Pedro
Pascal), a pilot that got into hot water and is now grounded.
Of course, all of these men have hit financially hard times and
have their respective and obvious reasons why they need the money from
this score, and the team does manage to infiltrate the kingpin's out of
the way stronghold and look poised to make way with all of his hidden
loot...and then...well...things go south really, really fast.
At face value,
TRIPLE FRONTIER seems like it couldn't be anymore different of a film for
Chandor than his previous efforts, but when one scrutinizes with a closer
look some common thematic threads can be seen, such as how the stresses of
complex moral conundrums and uncertainties have a powerful negative
influence on strong men.
To be sure, TRIPLE FRONTIER is essentially one of those age old
genre pictures about one man trying to band together his once tight and
dexterous team in order to hatch out and execute one proverbial "last
The film has a definitive been-there, done-that vibe of
familiarity, to be sure.
Still, there's the added thematic complexity of these ex-military
men that feel mightily scorned by their own country and governments for
not having looked after them properly after giving their lives for their
country by serving it.
For most of these men, they're barely able to financially survive,
which adds a compelling dramatic undercurrent to the film.
Santiago and his men are not evil people, nor hardened crooks.
They simply need to steal to stay afloat back home.
TRIPLE FRONTIER becomes, as a result of this, an intriguingly
unique dissection of how pure survival instincts born out of
understandable motives later gives way to pure and insatiable greed that
begins to mentally unravel these poor souls.
Once the film
gets to the bulk of the heist - about midway through - it becomes
something wholly absorbing and quite thrilling.
Of course, and like innumerable past heist films, there are always
hiccups along the way that prevent the thieves from having a silky smooth
operation that runs perfectly.
And it certainly appears early on that Santiago's crew is going to
pull this one off without a hitch, but then when they discover more money
than they could possibly imagine secretly hidden throughout the home -
more than they are even capable of taking in one trip - their lust for the
fortune begins to override their common sense, which ultimately proves
dangerously problematic for them.
Greed begins to poison them all, and even though they narrowly make
it out of the compound, they then find themselves in a life and death/cat
and mouse game with not only the drug lord's armed thugs, but with the
rigors of the harsh Brazilian terrain that conspires against them during
their escape efforts.
This all leads to the men making hasty judgment calls that, more
often than not, builds towards them all committing acts of violence that
places them in the same ethical position as those they are stealing from.
For the most
part, TRIPLE FRONTIER works as a sobering
piece about good and noble minded men that were once driven by a
strong code of conduct in the military and now feel spit on by the
institutions they swore to defend, which leads to them being corrupted by
I would easily argue that the sections of the film after the
semi-botched heist are among the most feverishly intense, which shows the
more primal battles - both mentally and physically - that these men face
while trying to secure their escape and ensuring their very survival.
Chandor does an exceedingly assured job during these sequences,
drumming up nail biting tension with each dangerous impediment that comes
these men's ways.
Everything snowballs for them, one way or another, as they have to
steer clear of one obstacle after another, which each new one getting
bigger than the last.
And as the men are forced to brace with the natural elements around
them destroying their sanity from the inside out, they then begin to make
snap judgments about their own trust in one another, which complicates
Thankfully, Boal and Chandor cook up some unexpected surprises
along the way to keep viewers off balance.
Having said all
of that, I only wished that the opening sections of TRIPLE FRONTIER were
The first half hour or so of this film is very stiffly written,
especially in the dialogue front, when actors of the caliber of Affleck
and Isaac are forced to carve their respective teeth into some awfully
forced, contrived, and wooden exchanges that we've heard time and time
again in these types of films that only exist for establishing
The characters themselves are also lacking in dimension as well,
and most of them are not afforded the depth that they all deserve for us
to have a thorough rooting interest in their cause.
These men are delineated as broad character types, and not much
else, which frequently makes it hard for audiences to really care about
their plight later on in the film.
That's not to say that Affleck, Isaac and company don't do what
they can to make their roles interesting, but when they're not given much
to work with on the page, that's a different problem altogether.
Still, I found myself enjoying TRIPLE FRONTIER as a pure technical exercise in genre filmmaking more than anything else. The action sequences are robust and thrilling, and the film's sense of chilling atmosphere is palpable. I also think that Chandor and Boal have much more up their collective sleeves with this film than simply offering up yet another dime-a-dozen heist thriller, and the undercurrent of how the government treats ex-military and how, in turn, this leads to them feeling occupationally useless and driven to crooked acts is most certainly fascinating. I don't think that Chandor pulls off everything as successfully as he wanted to, and TRIPLE FRONTIER is absolutely one of the lesser films of his accomplished resume. However, he's a good enough ringmaster to make conventional material here work on other enthralling levels, which I think is enough to not dismiss it altogether.