Triple Frontier Review
When you’ve given everything but your life to your country and all you have left are battle scars and an empty bank account, would you seize the chance to set up your family for life with one (albeit illegal) job? That’s the conundrum facing a crew led by Oscar Isaac’s “Pope” Garcia in J.C. Chandor's fourth feature, Triple Frontier. Joining him are his band of brothers: army instructor “Ironhead” (Charlie Hunnam), cage fighter, Ben (Garrett Hedlund), top pilot, “Catfish” (Pedro Pascal), and strategist “Redfly” (Ben Affleck).
They’re a group of tough ex-military veterans who get a heavy metal intro off the back of Ironhead’s macho opening speech, setting the tone for the next two hours. Their target is a drug kingpin Pope has struggled to pin down for years, and now not only will he be able to take him out but also steal the millions stashed inside his jungle mansion. But there’d be no film if they just swept in, scooped up the money and disappeared off the face of the Earth. Their mission into the triple frontier – a multi-border area where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet – was never going to be straightforward and that’s exactly how it pans out.
Kathryn Bigelow and regular writing collaborator Mark Boal were set to direct and write Triple Frontier as far back as 2010, with Mahershala Ali, Channing Tatum and Tom Hardy all officially cast as the years ticked by. Paramount dropped the film completely before Netflix picked up the baton and recast with Chandor still in the director’s chair. As tough talking as the opening few minutes are, it would come as a surprise to see Chandor inject too much testosterone into film. It’s certainly a film that has clear traces of Boal and Bigelow's style, but there is less posturing than you'd probably see in their world.
What is more surprising is how little under the hood there is on closer inspection. This is a film that does just enough to get by without making the effort to separate itself from a swamp of similar heist flicks. Chandor has made a name for himself thanks to the fresh perspectives he has given to familiar stories. It’s also the first time he’s had to share screenplay duties, which is where the problem lies. Triple Frontier is as conventional as they come and its long, convoluted production history has resulted in a fairly mediocre action adventure.
Despite such a strong cast, the characters are flimsy and inconsistent. The early stages are spent bringing them all into one space where the old buddies agree to hit the road one last time. But with little explanation given as to why, who they are set up as and what they eventually do are completely different. Maybe it’s the greed or intensity of the situation they find themselves in, but not enough time or thought is given to helping us understand their thinking. If the film was more concerned with brawn over brain that wouldn’t be a problem, except it clearly wants to place an emphasis on these men’s lives ahead of anything else.
The script flits around ideas about privatised warfare and the damage caused by American interference in places that have nothing to do with them. The criticisms of how ex-soldiers are treated aren’t strong enough to downplay the largely pro-military stance it stakes, which places it squarely in the middle of Bigelow and Boal territory. But again, the script never digs deep enough to offer much of interest, so we are just left following a generic bunch of middle-aged army guys trying to make it through to the other side.
Despite the lack of thrust found in the action sequences, Chandor directs with the sort of clarity you'd expect, while DP Roman Vasyanov gives the film a crisp, clear palette that emphasis the raw, natural landscapes surrounding the group. Given the talent involved, it’s disappointing the themes never manage to take flight and it remains a largely forgettable affair. Chandor teases the possibility of a sequel at the very last, but if this team decide to head back for part two there’s quite a bit of work to be done to make it worthwhile.
Triple Frontier can be seen on Netflix from March 13th.