James C. Clay // Film Critic
Director JC Chandor has made films about survival (ALL IS LOST) and films about greed (MARGIN CALL and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR)/ With his latest, TRIPLE FRONTIER, he blends the themes into an exhausting film that works as a two-hour pressure cooker, even if the outcome is a bit hollow. For the past decade, the filmmaker has operated in spaces where his protagonists are morally ambiguous characters who are wrestling with inner turmoil and usually face some righteous comeuppance once its all said and done.
Penned by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Mark Boal (THE HURT LOCKER), TRIPLE FRONTIER was originally slated to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow (ZERO DARK THIRTY), but she left for other creative pursuits. Even though Chandor is a more than adequate director, you can’t help but wonder what Bigelow would have brought to a film that is so overbearingly male. That’s not to say Chandor doesn’t know how to ratchet up the tension, as this story of retired special forces operatives is thoroughly engaging, but to what end? He delivers the goods with the action, yet there’s no commentary about toxic masculinity, or atoning for the film’s jingoistic politics.
TRIPLE FRONTIER opens with Pope (Oscar Isaac) as he is being contracted in South America to take down drug lords for hire. He operates outside the rules, seemingly following the American way – doing whatever he wants. He’s been in pursuit of a cartel leader by the name of Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos) and his wealth that’s north of $75 million cash money. He recruits a group of disgruntled ex-special forces operatives – which, I guess, is a vague action movie term for certifiable badass – under the guise of a quick in-and-out recon job that pays $17k for just a few days of work. If you’ve ever seen a movie before, it’s telegraphed that these guys aren’t going to get what they bargained for. It turns into a quest just to survive with the world’s heaviest backpack full of currency in tow.
The truth about these guns for hire is after they retire, the government pretty much throws them out with nothing more than a small pension to hold them over. That’s where the team of soldiers enter the story: There’s Ironhead (Charlie Hunham), who is off giving motivational speeches; his brother Ben (Garret Hedlund), a MMA fighter; Catfish (Pedro Pascal), a grounded pilot with a cocaine charge; and Tom (Ben Affleck) as the world’s best condo realtor.
On a surface level, TRIPLE FRONTIER is an action thriller that provides teeth gritting scenes that cause the palms to get a bit sweaty. To call this film intense is an understatement, but Boal’s script just barely scratches the psyche of these guys. They come across as just meathead arseholes that have gone into underdeveloped countries and outright murdered the indigenous population. The issue with that is viewers at home may mistake this behavior for pure American muscle. I don’t think Chandor and Boal are advocating for the actions of these men, but they are far past the point of atonement; hence why Bigelow’s nuanced direction could have provided a more brazen critique of this sector of masculinity. And, not to mention, these Americans are taking dirty money back to our country, while there are favelas in South America just longing for pennies to be able to eat. Films don’t fully need to have a moral compass, but there is something troubling about the hubris of Americans in this political climate that seems completely outdated.
This film would make a nice double feature with 2014’s FURY (about a group of men inside a WWII Sherman tank), and it would make sense given that cinematographer Roman Vasyanov photographed both films. We see the lush landscapes of the jungles to the vistas of the Andes Mountains. And if you’ve ever seen the 1993 film ALIVE, you know how frightening that setting can be. The only question is will Ben Affleck take a bite out of Oscar Isaac’s thigh by the time the credits roll?
TRIPLE FRONTIER hit Netflix worldwide, and it will be fascinating to see how our South American neighbors will respond to the film that is not only disrespectful to their continent but outright disregards the people. The best parts of the film are when the group of men hit pitfall after pitfall in their quests for riches. Unfortunately, the thrills just aren’t enough to lead this film to the finish line, as it becomes a laundry list of action movie tropes. All that being said, this is perfect home viewing for anybody looking for some cheap thrills.
TRIPLE FRONTIER is now playing in limited theatrical release and available to stream on Netflix.