What do you get when an unexpected take on a predictable genre falls just short of bringing it home? The answer is “Triple Frontier.”
“Triple Frontier” is directed by J.C. Chandor (“A Most Violent Year”), who shares a co-writing credit with a darling of military screenwriting, Mark Boal ( “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”). The film boasts an impressive ensemble cast including Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal and Garrett Hedlund.
Loyalties are tested when five former special forces operatives reunite to steal a drug lord’s fortune, unleashing a chain of unintended consequences.
“Triple Frontier” is, above all else, an actor’s film. How can you expect otherwise, with a pedigreed cast like this one? What the film lacks in intrigue it makes up for in incredibly human performances. Damn good ones, at that.
The action genre is arguably built on stereotypes, especially within a military or heist subgenre. Look at any great action ensemble feature of the past twenty years and you can tick off a few boxes of what’s expected from your cast of characters. Not so with the gentlemen of “Triple Frontier.”
A credit to both the writers and, especially, to the cast is how much each of these soldiers turned criminals feel like individuals. Individuals, but still with a common shared experience and their own unique ways of processing the information and feelings they all have in common. It’s a difficult balance to strike and “Triple Frontier” hits its mark.
Oscar Isaac shines as the emotional compass of the film and this is the most I’ve enjoyed Ben Affleck, in some time. Pair those two with a supporting cast so strong that they are leads, in their own right, and you’ve got something that really works well.
It’s worth noting that the soundtrack totally bops, even though it does seem a touch out of place with the bulk of the film.
I will hand this to “Triple Frontier,” the film is trying to do something interesting. What walks and talks like every other military shootout film you’ve ever seen takes a sudden turn into a survival adventure, and it’s effective.
Additionally, “Triple Frontier” tries to elevate itself beyond the typical limits of the genre with an on the nose commentary on greed, and human life v. material gain, and how human life can be commodified for the sake of power, and it’s all just one big metaphor for the harmful impact of militarism.
There’s potential for depth and discussion, but never does the film really commit and come right out and say it. “Triple Frontier” tricks the viewer into thinking that it’s calling out “the man,” all the while playing it safe.
This is most frustratingly summarized in Ben Affleck’s character as a foil to Oscar Isaac. All of this great tension and signaling is unceremoniously cut short and exchanged for a much more palatable version. It was a wasted opportunity, as far as I’m concerned.
Not the nail in the film’s coffin, but the “Triple Frontier” falls short of successfully conveying anything of substance. Which, in the end, makes it just another fun action film with a great cast.
Aside from a few pacing issues and an ending that makes you say “Eh,” there really are no glaring issues with the film. It’s fine.
To be honest, I think I would have a larger issue with it if not for its platform of choice.
This is a Netflix original and a fitting place to give this film the wide reach it will definitely need. I wonder, perhaps, if I can blame the streaming platform and the quest for broad appeal to some of the storytelling and thematic choices that I took issue with?
Netflix represents a very interesting space, in the filmmaking landscape, capable of drawing in big names and budgets and audiences, while also existing outside the pomp and prestige enjoyed by wide theatrical release films. If you were going to ask me to get real about it, I’d say that Netflix is designed to serve a film such as “Triple Frontier.” It allows for a film to just be okay, it’s good for a casual viewing experience (which I think lends great aid to this particular film), and it still brings in the talent to put forth good work.
My verdict? It’s streaming and it’s fine. “Triple Frontier” is absolutely unique for the genre, while still delivering on the expected beats that we all love. Worth a watch to see this cast work so well together.
“Triple Frontier” is streaming on Netflix now!
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.