Less action is more ambition in the case of Triple Frontier. Once attached to the likes of Tom Hanks, Mahershala Ali and Johnny Depp, the film has retained some degree of its star power in the casting of Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac. It benefits too from a muscular but sage approach by director J. C. Chandor and soundtrack that plays heavy on heightening the fun. If the film lacks in many regards – tension, pacing and Charlie Hunnam’s accent – it succeeds in as many more.
Hot on the heels of her Hurt Locker success, Kathryn Bigelow was originally penned to direct Triple Frontier back in 2010. Almost a decade of development hell followed before Netflix once more proved itself to be saviour of failing films. Not that it would be fair to call Triple Frontier a failure by any means. Bigelow might have passed directorial duties to Chandor – the grounded filmmaker behind A Most Violent Year – but she remains executive producer, along with her common compatriot Mark Boal, who has penned the script. Boal’s was the idea for this and it’s a good one; kind of Ocean’s 11 meets The Expendables. Here is a heist movie more interested in the getaway than the theft, and brawny veteran flick keen to explore post-conflict psychology.
Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia (Isaac) is the film’s magnet man, the Danny Ocean or Barney Ross, say. He’s a private military advisor, operating across the ’tres fronteras’ borders of Brazil, Columbia and Peru. For three years, he’s been integral to the search for bigwig South American drug lord Gabriel Martin Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos). For three years, he’s been hampered by foreign colleagues in their rival’s pocket. When Garcia’s informant cum girlfriend (Adria Arjona) reveals to him Lorea’s location however – which is also home to his $75m fortune – a career left turn beckons. What he needs his a whip smart team of ex-warrior specialists, each down on their luck and essentially abandoned by the state. Boal touches briefly on the poor treatment of army vets by the US government but it’s a fleeting commentary: ‘You’ve been shot five times for your country and you can’t even afford a new truck. That’s the real crime.’
Hunnam plays William ‘Ironhead’ Miller, a brute force figure, who has been reduced to giving motivational talks to current recruits about the perils of their career, having himself attacked a civilian in a supermarket. His brother – Garrett Hedlund’s poorly defined Ben – is hardly better off, now scraping a living in mixed martial arts. There’s Pedro Pascal too as Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales, a former pilot, and Ben Affleck’s logistics genius Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis. Tom has the most to gain here and likely the most to lose; he’s split from his wife, semi-estranged from his daughter and has hit the pits in his job as a realtor. He’s also the most reluctant. Indeed, it takes lies and lures for Garcia to get his five to Brazil. When he finally does, a quick, unusually straightforward, heist is competently delivered and the aftermath ensues. It’s not quite tense but effective.
Such is the general mould of the film. Chandor hasn’t the verve in shooting of Soderbergh and instead works on channelling gravitas through a frequent recourse to silhouettes and arcing sky shots. There’s something of the Apocalypse Now in the way he frames his helicopters, surfing the jungle canopy, mirroring a resemblance in the script’s themes of greed, isolation, power and desperation. Roman Vasyanov’s cinematography, again, offers nothing so bold as Vittorio Storaro’s work in 1979 but it’s generally effective. Less so might be Ron Patane’s editing, which feels increasingly choppy in the film’s later stages. Here, opportunity for insight is rather squandered in a succession of scenes that barely last out a full minute.
Nonetheless, Triple Frontier is a strong enough film and should satisfy streamers seeking action with aspiration. Isaac shines and it’s good to see Affleck back out of the bat cave.