Director: JC Chandor. Starring: Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund. Cert: 15, 125 mins
From a few steps back, Netflix’s Triple Frontier runs as smoothly and elegantly as you’d expect of a film packed with such a heavyweight cast. There’s even a touch of the original Ocean’s 11 to its premise: a small gang of military veterans are brought together to pull off an impossible heist. Here, though, the target is a powerful drug lord, whose vast fortune is stashed in his home hidden deep within the South American jungle. Whereabouts exactly, we’re never told, suggesting our attention should only be on the story at hand, not the wider corruption that allowed this drug lord to thrive in the first place.
It’s a narrow focus, certainly, but Triple Frontier is a vehicle fuelled by testosterone, not sociological nuance. The film’s cast – Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund – all exude an easy confidence onscreen. We’re miles from Vegas, in a world where wit and glamour are traded in for bravado and sobering realism.
Director JC Chandor, who proved himself a dab hand with 2014’s A Most Violent Year, plays to his strengths here. His work isn’t flashy, but is sophisticated. When shots are fired in Triple Frontier, and the men’s military training instantly kicks in, Chandor mirrors their concentration in a series of long, smooth takes that instinctively scan the battlefield.
At times, though, the lightness of touch does feel at odds with the film’s more blatant elements of machismo. There’s much gruff posturing to be found, perhaps more associated with the work of the film’s screenwriter Mark Boal (he’s also an executive producer alongside Kathryn Bigelow, who he collaborated with on The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and Detroit). Key moments are soundtracked to classic rock hits such as Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” or Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle”.
Yet it’s the moment that Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” kicks in that some of these illusions start to shatter. Its lyrics – “I can see through your masks/ You that never done nothin’/ But build to destroy” – allow a soft blanket of melancholy to settle over Triple Frontier. We start to see what drives these men. Hunnam’s William recalls, in the film’s opening scene, the moment he found himself in the cereal aisle of a local grocery store, with “my arm around some guy’s throat”. He concludes: “That’s the price of being a warrior.” What these men have sacrificed becomes only clearer when their determination to finish the job deteriorates into a kind of blind desperation.
They have been chewed up and spat out by the military system, left with PTSD and little sense of financial security. Affleck’s Tom just wants to send his kids to college. The men each feel rudderless and the film invites us to look beyond the usual motivations of greed – this money represents, to them, a second chance at life. In turn, those emotions are all poured back into the film’s action scenes, so that their tension comes directly from the looming threat that these men will be consumed by their own single-mindedness. We can indulge in our suspicions of who may be the weak link of the pack, or how it could all come crashing down.
The answers, regrettably, aren’t particularly surprising. Still, Triple Frontier makes a decent stab at looking beyond the usual ambitions of the genre. There’s thought behind all this gun-toting.
Triple Frontier is available on Netflix now
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