Triple Frontier. Co-written and directed by J.C. Chandor. Starring Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal. Rating: 6 (out of 10)
They say that there’s a city of gold deep within the rainforests of South America. That may be, but our boys in Triple Frontier are more focused on a jungle compound lined with cash.
J.C. Chandor’s film introduces us to five former special ops soldiers, all of whom are barely scraping by in civilian life. One of the men comes up with a scheme to rob a powerful drug lord: a bit of community service and get-rich-quick-scheme rolled into one. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s dirty money, but the film lobbies hard that these men deserve it. Ben (Garrett Hedlund) makes ends meet getting pummelled in MMA cage fights. His brother William “Ironhead” Miller (Charlie Hunnam) spends his days lecturing about “the price of being a warrior” and trying to prevent attrition in the military to the public sector, where the pay’s much better. Francisco “Fish” Morales (Pedro Pascal) is a new dad, wondering how he’ll make payments. And the aftermath of his military career cost Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck) his family: now he’s got two sets of bills to pay, and regrets that he gave the service “his 20 best years.”
It’s Santiago Garcia (Oscar Isaac) who comes up with the plan. He’s been working as a gun-for-hire in South America, trying to rid the local landscape of drugs and murder. His informant (an underused Adria Arjona) has intel that could lead them to a drug czar’s home, hidden in the Brazilian forest. Santiago just needs to get the old team back together.
Naturally, it’s his last mission. “What am I going to do: run and gun, till my knees finally give out?” he asks. There is hesitation – these guys are mercenaries with a conscience, never took a dime while wearing the uniform – but a share of an estimated $75 million would be an awful lot of “thank you for your service.”
Without giving too much away, the problem isn’t getting to the money or even getting away with it: it’s getting ANYWHERE with it. There’s just too much of it.
Men and their fraught relationship with money is a favourite topic of Chandor’s. In Margin Call, a group of Wall Street power brokers (Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto) try to cover up a trillion-dollar mistake. A Most Violent Year (also starring Isaac), was about a man trying to keep his family clean in a very dirty business.
There are some great action sequences in the script, which Chandor co-wrote with Oscar-winner Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker), including an opening which sees Isaac’s character engaged in an all-uphill chase through a mountain town (I hope they got him running all those stairs in one take!) and another featuring a tense helicopter ride and crash in an opium farmer’s field. The jungle and high-altitude locations provide novel and scenic tableaux for the action, while the men make an impossible journey through the jungle, over the Andes and snowcapped peaks to a boat at the seashore. But how many sacks of money will they have to leave behind?
There isn’t much to distinguish the men from each other than ex-army professions. Redfly was their captain back in the days, but other than a brief mention, you’d never know it. Affleck fares best in the characterization: at least he has a bit of a backstory and a family for us to draw upon. He is the most reluctant to do the project, but he also becomes the most morally challenged by the choices in front of him.
There’s a general nod to the plight of ex-servicemen everywhere, “goddamn heroes who can’t even send their kids to college,” to paraphrase one character. On the negative side, this is a self-actualized soldiering movie that should have taken more time to get to know its characters; we’d certainly like to. And a somewhat arbitrary score by Disasterpeace leaves the conversations hanging in places, and underwhelms the intense action elsewhere.
A parade of actors came and went from the project, including Tom Hanks, Tom Hardy, Johnny Depp and Channing Tatum. Production on the film was delayed again with Affleck citing personal health issues.
After a limited theatrical run, Triple Frontier is available this week on Netflix.