Triple Frontier (dir. J.C. Chandor, 2019) – Former Special Forces soldiers plan to rob a known cartel boss, but the mission soon spirals out of control.
Focusing more on the thrills of the heist than its motivations, the thematic ideas of Triple Frontier sadly never come into fruition.
Triple Frontier opens with retired captain William ‘Ironhead’ Miller (Charlie Hunnam) standing before a hall of young soldiers, freshfaced as he had once been. He recounts his moment of post-traumatic stress induced violence in a grocery store, painfully aware of how war has changed him.
The rest of his ex-military crew has not adjusted well to civilian life either. Post-war, Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis (Ben Affleck) ends up a divorced, absent father with an estranged teen daughter. Former pilot Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales (Pedro Pascal) has fallen into shady company, revoked of his license to fly while under investigation.
Then, we have Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia (Oscar Isaac), who appears to have it all together. In fact, it is as though the man is ready-made for the battlefield. The now-private military advisor is the one with the big plans, gathering his A-Team to raid the home of a kingpin under the pretense of a government-backed mission.
Fuelled by greed and manipulative on the surface, Garcia turns out to be more than he seems. His ploy is not solely for money, but to find safe haven for his informant Yovanna (Adria Arjona). It is also through Morales that we know Garcia as more than a militant but an idealist, once with the dream to empower the oppressed back in his hometown.
The layered leads held much promise. Having Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) on board as co-writer point to good news for the narrative front too. Regrettably, J.C. Chandor’s heist film suffers under the weight of squandered ideas. Backstories for the ragtag crew are reduced to passing remarks, as do the resentment of their wasted youth, left behind by the army they devotedly served for.
Exploring the true costs of war takes a backseat to the shoot ’em up to follow. The lack of potential insight is thankfully made up for with some great action. Effective tension builds, when Garcia’s plan starts to fray at its ends. The stakes are real. As supposed professionals let ill judgement get the better of them, grievances rush to the surface, and danger surges.
Despite the major casting shake-up whilst in development hell, the final film did end up with a solid (and incredibly good looking) group of actors. Affleck, Pascal, and Isaac in particular lent their characters personality that the script was otherwise devoid of. Still, it was difficult to root for the crew of unambiguous criminals when they show no qualms about murder, and easier still to believe that they deserve their mishaps entirely.
Ultimately, watching the millions burn up or fall into the canyons evoked less commiseration than the sudden death of an innocent mule, which best sums up the emotionally hollow action thriller. If nothing else, Triple Frontier at least serves as Oscar Isaac’s perfect audition tape to star in the next big action franchise, with a brilliant soundtrack to boot.