Triple Frontier is a tense, dramatic thriller buoyed by a handful of strong performances and a fascinating screenplay by Mark Boal.
Action-thriller Triple Frontier began life as a possible vehicle for Tom Hanks and Kathryn Bigelow back in 2010, but its extended stay in development hell caused the cast and crew to change over time. Eventually, the project was handed off to director J.C. Chandor, but it still took a few years (and several attempts at ironing out a cast) for the film to come into fruition. Finally, Triple Frontier is complete and ready to be seen as Netflix's latest original film. Fortunately, the end result mostly makes all the trouble it took to get it to the screen worth it. Triple Frontier is a tense, dramatic thriller buoyed by a handful of strong performances and a fascinating screenplay by Mark Boal.
Triple Frontier picks up as Santiago "Pope" Garcia (Oscar Isaac) is at long last closing in on South American drug lord Gabriel Martin Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos). Thanks to valuable intel provided by his informant Yovanna (Adria Arjona), Garcia discovers Lorea's location, which is also where he keeps his immense fortune. Santiago returns to America to recruit his old Special Forces pals Tom "Redfly" Davis (Ben Affleck), brothers William "Ironhead" Miller (Charlie Hunnam) and Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund), and Francisco "Catfish" Morales (Pedro Pascal) to conduct a recon mission and scope out Lorea's house.
Instead of bringing the information to his superiors at the local agency, Santiago decides that he and his ragtag group of friends should pull off the operation themselves, making away with millions of dollars that would substantially change their lives. Reluctantly, Redfly and the others agree to go along with the plan, knowing all too well what consequences await them if any aspect of the heist goes south.
Most importantly, Triple Frontier succeeds at making the main ensemble feel like a makeshift family that's been through a lot together over the years. Via dialogue and character interactions, there's a real sense of shared history between the soldiers, which is vital in establishing a strong connection with the audience. Chandor smartly takes things slow in the first act, setting up each of the principal players' current situations at home before thrusting them into the dangers of the South American jungle. His approach here goes a long way in allowing viewers to buy in and clearly understand the characters' motivations, raising some interesting moral questions that underscore the film's primary themes.
The actors certainly bolster what's on the page in regards to their camaraderie, playing off each other with nice chemistry. The only downside here is that not all of the characters are equally fleshed out; the trio of Pascal, Hunnam, and Hedland do what they can with their material and leave a small impression thanks to their screen presence, but Affleck and Isaac clearly have the most to work with. Unsurprisingly, both are game to serve as Triple Frontier's leads, delivering convincing and compelling turns that aren't afraid to highlight their characters' individual flaws. "Pope" in particular is the driving force of the narrative and goes through the most substantial change, with Isaac characteristically keeping a firm hand on his performance. Unfortunately, with so much of the screen time dedicated to the main soldiers, supporting actors like Arjona and Gallegos barely register and are more like plot devices to move the story along.
Chandor also does a very good job staging the various set pieces, which are underlined by a sense of terror and dread. Even though Triple Frontier will be seen by many on a TV or mobile device screen (with this being a Netflix release), the action sequences were still crafted in a way that feels very cinematic - enhanced by Roman Vasyanov's cinematography and Greg Berry's production design. These scenes are shot and edited with the intensity of a war film, which is fitting given the subject matter and creative team. The raid of Lorea's house in particular is a standout, reminiscent at times of the ending of Zero Dark Thirty (coincidentally, also written by Boal), in the sense that nobody is safe at any time. And with the actors all being veterans of genre fare, they aptly handle the physical demands of their performances, further grounding the proceedings. Many times, viewers will be left on the edge of their seats.
What helps Triple Frontier get a step above the typical Hollywood action vehicle is Boal's writing. His script looks to tackle the consequences of selfish greed and violence, giving the film some layers to explore as viewers contemplate the characters' actions. Admittedly, this isn't exactly new territory for Boal; parts of Triple Frontier (most notably, Hunnam's opening monologue about soldiers' difficulty to adjust to the private sector) call to mind The Hurt Locker - and they were arguably better developed in that Oscar-winning war drama. That said, Boal's desire to find something deeper than just a generic shoot-em-up heist movie is appreciated and may help Triple Frontier stick with viewers after the credits have rolled. Again, nothing here is all that groundbreaking, but it's still executed tastefully and thoughtfully.
In the end, Triple Frontier is definitely one of the better original Netflix films in recent memory. It probably won't go down as an Oscar contender a la Roma or The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, but it's worth checking out and those interested may even consider a trip to the theater if they can find a screening nearby. With 2019 off to a relatively slow start in regards to must-see cinema, Triple Frontier appears to be coming out at the right time and should be an appealing option for viewers in the mood for something new. As cinephiles wait for some more big releases to hit the multiplex, they'll probably find something to enjoy here.
Triple Frontier is now available for streaming through Netflix. It runs 125 minutes and is rated R for violence and language throughout.
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- Triple Frontier (2019) release date: Mar 13, 2019