Warning: the following contains spoilers for Triple Frontier.
On its surface a straightforward heist movie featuring some ex-special forces members on a quest for cash gone wrong, but Triple Frontier's ending, it's clear there's more to the movie than just a classic daring crime. A simple job goes wrong and the characters are forced to make adjustments and cross lines as they fight to keep their lives and their stolen cash.
When an American veteran embedded with a South American police force on the tail of cartel boss Gabriel Martin Lorea gets a big tip that could bring his target down, he reaches out to his former colleagues to set up a covert operation. He brings in Tom 'Redfly' Davis (Ben Affleck), William 'Ironhead' Miller (Charlie Hunnam), his brother Ben 'Benny' Miller (Garrett Hedlund), and Francisco 'Catfish' Morales with the promise that they could pocket millions if they take down Lorea outside of government purview.
Related: Triple Frontier Review
When things don't go according to plan, the crew is sent down a path of tough decisions, forced to balance their safety, their morality, and their shot at taking home millions of dollars. Here's what happens in Triple Frontier's ending and what it really means.
- This Page: Why Triple Frontier's Plan Was Doomed to Fail
- Page 2: What Triple Frontier's Ending Really Means
What Was The Team’s Background In Triple Frontier?
Triple Frontier does a great job of not burdening the plot with extra exposition to establish the characters or build the world, instead allowing the development to occur naturally through dialogue and subtext. Without any on-the-nose exposition in this regard, it could be easy to miss each character's background. Here's what we learn about them over the course of the movie.
Tom 'Redfly' Davis (Affleck) - Tom has a tactical mind and clearly commands the respect of every other team member. While Oscar Isaac's 'Pope' organizes the operation and forms the team, it's Tom they look to for guidance, and most of them say they won't even participate if he isn't on board. Heralded as a hero multiple times, Tom was shot five times in the line of duty and carries his many injuries with a limp.
Now out of the service and trying to scratch by as a failing realtor, Tom has to care for 2 families and is struggling to cover the bills. He's worried about being able to provide for his teenage daughter, but she wishes he would just spend time with her.
William 'Ironhead' Miller (Hunnam) - Ironhead is the first character we meet as he gives a speech to troops that are just about to leave the military. It's a speech he's given dozens of times before cautioning the class against being lured in to work with a security contractor.
Santiago 'Pope' Garcia (Isaac) - The only one of the team still actively working in the field, Pope is embeddd with a South American police force where he's working to bust the cartel. He has feelings for his informant, Yovanna (Adria Arjona), who gets him the inside information about the cartel boss's headquarters.
His body is getting worn down from his years of service. He had back surgery to correct an issue, but it "only made things worse," and he's afraid his knees are going to give out. Sensing his retirement is fast approaching, he's looking to make this his "one last job."
Ben 'Benny' Miller (Hedlund) - Ironhead's brother, he's an (apparently so-so) MMA fighter. His background gets the least development, but he's a little younger than the rest of the crew and also runs security during the operation.
Francisco 'Catfish' Morales (Pascal) - A former pilot, Catfish has been grounded, losing his pilot's license due to cocaine use. He recently became a father and is worried about how he's going to take care of his new family.
Why The Plan In Triple Frontier Was Doomed To Fail
In Triple Frontier, Santiago arguably assembled the perfect team for this mission. Every man was an expert in his area, they'd worked together countless times before, they had the element of surprise, a detailed plan, and reliable intel, but despite all that, the plan was doomed to fail from the beginning.
It was made clear early on that everyone on the team looked up to Redfly and may not have done the job at all without him. Wounded multiple times in the line of duty. Decorated for his accomplishments, and clearly a man of principle.
The problem was, the principles that made Tom the hero he was and the man the team looked up to were abandoned the second he accepted the job from Pope. This mission was unsanctioned, off the books, highly illegal, and while they argued they would do some real good by finally taking out Gabriel Martin Lorea, the real motivating factor was the money. So when it turned out there was far more money in the house (literally) than initially accounted for, Tom's principles and devotion to duty slipped a little more. He'd never missed a "hard out" before, but the delay in securing all the cash was nearly disastrous.
A "frontier" is the outer reaches of a territory or dividing line or border between two locales. The name Triple Frontier on its face likely refers to the multi-border zone of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, but also could reflect the situation they find themselves in, having to make tough calls to cross a new line or fold. In fact, in the course of their escape, they have three chances to cut leave the money and run or hang on to as much as possible.
Every time they prioritize the money over their own morality or safety, there's a cost. First, Ironhead is shot, then they lose the helicopter and Redfly is forced to kill an innocent person, a decision he ends up paying for with his own life. It isn't until Triple Frontier's end of the journey that they finally choose to cut the many many extra bags of cash loose, taking only what they can carry in backpacks and finally escaping.