“A stock boy job at Wal-Mart is starting to look pretty good right now, boys.”
To those well versed in the brief yet excellent filmography of one, J.C. Chandor, you’d be as surprised as me to hear about Triple Frontier. An ace A-Star leading men ensemble consisting of: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal, takes on another Hollywood generic Narco. I’m guessing that this is the most mainstream and action oriented that Chandor will get and it might be for the best. While I was intrigued by everything surrounding this project, from the director, cast, and even Disasterpeace being included on musical score, I could not help but leave feeling I saw a poor man’s Tears of the Sun.
The trailer for the film marketed an action packed south of the border Narco firefight, but anyone who knows director/screenwriter Chandor, knows that he wouldn’t simply release another basic shoot em’ up. So it came as no shock that it took nearly two thirds of the film before any decent action occurred. Triple Frontier is not as violent or high-octane as the superior Tears of the Sun or Sicario, but though the action is limited, Chandor manages to give some vulnerability and weight to his band of brothers. The majority of the plot centers around the group of ex-special forces soldiers who have resorted to living dead-end lives because their government does little to welcome and reintegrate them back into normal life. It’s a plot all too formulaic, and I’m disappointed that there were no twists or creative adaptations to a genre I enjoy but have grown hardened to. For the most part, I do enjoy the brief, yet hollow, chemistry that these men have, and the film’s shortcomings are not at the fault of any individual’s acting but that the story has been regurgitated hundreds of times, and the script did not come through with any surprises. A group of highly skilled gung-ho military men tired of being screwed by their system decide to take matters into their own hands. Then for added commentary and popularity, you mix in a little taste of what made Narcos and Sicario addictive. Unfortunately, I did not feel like this was anything close to level that Chandor has provided us in his past and came off as uninspired. My friends and I have played Ghost Recon: Wildlands and crafted imaginary backgrounds and stories that match the level of depth and detail found in Triple Frontier‘s plot.
The acting is the best part, yet it is not to the same level of intensity as Chandor’s other three films. While I am a fan of Affleck, I do think that his depressed dad role does not do this film or his character, Redfly, any favours, especially considering some of his later decisions. I’m a fan of all the leading characters here, but it’s Oscar Isaac’s Pope who does the majority of the work here. Yet he still falters when compared to his superb Al Pacino-Corleone role in A Most Violent Year. Notably, Triple Frontier is, for the sake of its plot and dynamic, a very masculine and macho film, and leaves instances of female engagement rather brief and, as I stated earlier, that avenue could and should have been explored much more to build off the men’s backgrounds. Especially as insight into Redfly’s family could have been developed and explored to create much more drama and payoff later on. Pedro Pascal is given relatively little to work with, and is unfortunately relegated to literally being the wheelman. As for Hunnam and Hedlund, who play brothers, the performances are adequate for the roles but you know they could be doing much more with a better script. Frankly, I think Hunnam delivered quite a subdued yet excellent performance. All in all, the men do deliver with the script they’re given, but each one has been given much much better missions before.
At its highest, Triple Frontier provides us with some relevant, if forced, commentary on the US military and each of the primary characters takes their personal jab at the system they entered, some more vocal than others. “It’s like they take your 20 best years, then spit you out…the only way I feel better is when they put a gun in your hand, so I guess that’s what we’ll do.” The better moments echo along the themes of betrayal, brotherhood, loyalty, and duty, and the film is at its most engaging not under fire, but between the once and always brothers in arms. There are quite a lot of quotes that come with heavy baggage and truth to them, and I would have preferred to see Chandor delve into PTSD and the aftermath of these men’s services to their country, rather than the Narco plot, but there’s an attention to detail to their plight, and while we don’t nearly spend enough time building up each character’s background and routine, we are given enough to feel why they would be compelled to do such a job. Chandor does not just thrust them in without repercussion, nor does he simply gloss over the desecration of the men’s past duty and loyalty to their nation. “Make no mistake, what we are about to do is criminal. We do not have the flag on our shoulders, and no amount of bullshit that we tell ourselves is gonna change that. If we do our job right, we will be committing one murder and one armed robbery. You guys need to own the fact that you guys are desecrating most of the oaths you ever took.” I particularly enjoyed that the film at least attempted to distance the actions of the men from hiding behind a flag. As Redfly states, there is no mistake, they are very much acting of their own personal volitions and desires. Over time, you begin to see who or what each man has in their sights. Unfortunately, these individual personalities and agendas don’t really take front stage till the third act of the film, which could have been spread out and hinted much more.
What I was truly hoping for was a deconstruction of the Narco heist/revenge film. Where Chandor masterfully deconstructed and displayed a grounded take on the mob film in A Most Violent Year, he didn’t innovate or provoke any new thoughts with Triple Frontier. The isolation and the pure character versus insurmountable odds in All is Lost, or the extremely relevant intelligence and script of Margin Call, are not present. As hinted, Triple Frontier is likely to be the most mainstream Chandor will get, and while it does service as a decent home viewing, I expected so much more. The cinematography is nothing to be entranced by, and while I do really enjoy Disasterpeace, this score hearkened to his videogame roots. Of course, there are some nice shots, and even what seemed like an attempted long take house sequence, but there is nothing of significant note. The film’s strength lies in the characters, and those characters are at their best when enclosed in small rooms or surrounded by vistas debating the hand they were dealt. Well, the hand they were offered and accepted voluntarily if we’re being technical. “If we had accomplished half the things we’ve accomplished, in any other profession, we’d be set for life.” To which the immediate response was, “Hey man, that’s the deal we cut.”
If you’re looking for action and scene after scene of shootouts, you’ll be at a loss. What Triple Frontier offers is a nuanced ensemble with a formulaic critique on the current state of US military politics. A heist film disguised under the mask of a Narco- Military conflict, with a lackluster heist in itself. Where I found the film to truly begin exploring it’s full heights are within its characters’ final third act. Shamefully, too little, too late. Unfortunately, its script is not thorough enough to penetrante any skin, and it’s actions are not entertaining enough to survive on their own.
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Film Studies/History graduate, using my love and knowledge of the medium to pass as a critic. I’m typically known for longer write-ups, and my eclectic taste ranging from awards darlings, European filmé, indie spirits, cinematic universes, and most notably 80s cult films. Hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, and remember, watch whatever, whenever, with whomever.