Director: J. C. Chandor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Pedro Pascal, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Adria Arjona, Reynaldo Gallegos
J. C. Chandor’s fourth outing as writer/director is quite a departure from his previous films: Wall Street crash drama, Margin Call (2011); Redford lost at sea in All Is Lost (2013); and the Isaac/Chastain power couple in crime drama A Most Violent Year (2014). Triple Frontier opens with private military adviser, Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia (Oscar Isaac), carrying out a drug bust in South America and we are immediately propelled into the action. It’s an intriguing sequence and Chandor does a great job of handing viewers a thrilling start. However, things slow down a bit when Garcia’s informant (Adria Arjona) tells him the whereabouts of drug lord, Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos), and his large stack of cash.
Garcia travels back to the States to recruit his former Delta Force friends: Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis (Ben Affleck), William ‘Ironhead’ Miller (Charlie Hunnam), his brother Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund) and Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales (Pedro Pascal), to hatch a plan to steal the millions laying beneath Lorea’s safe house in the jungle. All five men have motive for stealing the money. William is disheartened working as a motivational speaker for fellow soldiers, Ben has been reduced to an MMA fighter to pay the bills, Francisco has lost his pilot license and has a new kid to support, Garcia is determined to stop the man he has been hunting for years, and Tom is an unsuccessful realtor who is desperately struggling to pay for his daughter. The cast is incredibly strong, comprising of seasoned and upcoming talent, and they work well together as both actors and team members.
As Garcia and his men do reconnaissance on Lorea’s property, it’s interesting to note how all the men interact — all five are intelligent with little bravado and their heads clear. Their motivations for the heist make for an interesting dynamic as well, with the film having something to say about US veterans being discarded post-service. After the heist and their escape going sideways, as it inevitably does, the brotherhood begins to unravel and their morals are tested.
The first act — the film’s weakest — assembles its team then delves, surprisingly quickly, into the action, making up for the rather lacklustre ‘gathering of troops’. Like most of its kind, the film focuses on Isaac and Affleck and their respective characters’ conflicts; however, in a nice change of pace, the other men are given their moment in the sun. Hunnam, in particular, becomes the moral compass as their situation deepens and their objectives muddle. Garcia is focused on stopping Lorea by any means necessary and Tom’s greed gets the better of him as he is confronted by the possibility of a new life for him and his daughter. The film is good at making you question the likeability of the characters and whether we should really be rooting for them at all; we understand their motivations but, as their situation escalates and things become more perilous, the line between good guys and bad begins to dissolve.
The raid on Lorea’s compound is unbelievably tense and a brilliantly shot sequence and there are some beautiful shots of the South American jungle — a perfect location for armed conflict. Chandor is unafraid to slow things down, which is unusual for this sort of action film but it is a refreshing change of pace, which is enhanced by its excellent soundtrack — evocative of old war films, specifically noting ‘Run Through the Jungle’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival, as well as Fleetwood Mac and Metallica. My only issue is that the film fails to delve deeper into its characters, which would have made their predicament all the more compelling. By the end of Triple Frontier, we’re not entirely sure whose side we’re on and, while it may not be his best, Chandor has crafted an absorbing, exciting and engaging action thriller that’s well worth a look.
“You’ve been shot 5 times for your country and you can’t even afford to send your kids to college.”
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