triple frontier review

Triple Frontier had a long, strange journey to the big (and in most cases, small) screen. Back in 2011, Kathryn Bigelow was set to direct, with Tom Hanks starring. By 2015, Bigelow was out, and J.C. Chandor was in. Chandor would spend the next several years with the project, with one big name after another being floated for potential cast members: Johnny Depp, Tom Hardy, Channing Tatum. At one point, the Affleck brothers – Ben and Casey – were being courted to star.

But the Afflecks eventually left, and Mark Wahlberg stepped in, while Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal also signed on. And then, in a last bit of weirdness, Wahlberg bailed, and Ben Affleck returned. Oscar Isaac joined as well, and at last, Chandor had his cast in place, and Netflix appeared on the scene to help get the movie made. Now, Triple Frontier opens in select theaters this week before dropping on Netflix next week. Was this frustrating path to the screen worth all the trouble? No…and yes.

Christian Petzold, director of the masterful, critically acclaimed Phoenix and this year’s equally acclaimed Transit, turned some film fan heads when he revealed that 2018’s Den of Thieves – the greasy, trashy, dirtbag knock-off of Heat – was one of his favorite films of the last ten years. When asked about this curious choice by RogerEbert.com, Petzold said, “I love [movies about] guys who want to rob a bank. There is desire, they want to be rich, but they also have skills. They’re from the working class…team building is one of the best things to tell stories about, about loyalty and love…there are faces and bodies and tattoos, which has something to do with a working class that is lost.”

I kept thinking of that quote, and Den of Thieves, as I watched J. C. Chandor’s macho shoot-em-up Triple Frontier. It’s not quite the trashterpiece that Den of Thieves was, but it comes very close. It’s yet another film about working class guys, with “faces and bodies and tattoos”, as Petzold said. A film where big, angry men with scruffy facial hair strap on tactical vests and glower their way through one burst of violence to the next. It is, in a sense, the perfect Netflix movie. Something to stream from your bed in the dark after you’ve knocked back one too many beers.

But it could’ve been something more. Something better. Chandor behind the camera was a step in the right direction. The filmmaker is responsible for the remarkable All is Lost, a mostly silent movie with Robert Redford lost at sea. Chandor also directed the chilly, skillful A Most Violent Year, which is essentially a mafia movie without the mafia. Both of these films stand out for their uniqueness, and for the freshness Chandor brings to the proceedings. The prospect of having that same filmmaker tackle this kind of gung-ho, tough guy material offered a world of opportunity. But sadly, Chandor squanders it, content instead to make a junk food action flick that would be right at home going straight-to-VHS in another era.

triple frontier movie

Like an energy drink cocktail that mixes Den of ThievesThe Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the compound raid scene from Zero Dark Thirty together, Triple Frontier is a pastiche that greatly benefits from its cast, although they don’t have a whole lot to do other than yell and fire big guns. Ben Affleck plays a sad-sack trying to make it as a realtor, selling run down apartments with gorgeous views of dumpsters. Charlie Hunnam gives talks to soldiers about PTSD. Garrett Hedlund is Hunnam’s brother, a hot-head trying to make it as an MMA fighter. And Oscar Isaac is a cop who may or may not be having an affair with one of his informants (Adria Arjona). All of these characters have names, but don’t worry – you won’t need to know them. All you need to know is that they were once Special Forces operatives, and all they want to do is get in on some action again. “I only feel alive when I have a gun in my hand,” Affleck says at one point.

The potential for action arises when Isaac goes to his former team with a plan to rip off a murderous drug kingpin in South America. It’s a dangerous mission, but one by one, the men fall in line. Affleck is the most hesitant at first, but later, when he’s back in the field mowing down henchmen, it’s clear this is what he was meant to do.

Anyone who has ever seen a movie before (so, everyone) knows that the heist isn’t going to go according to plan. And while the boys make it out with an obscene amount of money, getting it out of the country is another matter. Much like Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea, who catches a giant marlin only to have it be picked apart by sharks before he can get back to shore, the men of Triple Frontier lose more and more of their huge haul as their journey to get home safe unfolds.

It becomes apparent that in some respects, Chandor is attempting to make a modern-day Western, with our main characters the gun-slinging outlaws trying to get away clean after a big bank robbery in a dead-end town. There’s even a drawn-out shootout scene in a craggy valley that feels like it was lifted directly from Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. But beyond the “what would a modern-day Western look like now?” set-up, Triple Frontier doesn’t have anything to say. The actors here are strong, but the characters they’re playing are blank. Only Isaac really has any development, and it’s not much to go on. Is the film trying to highlight the saga of working class men who were trained by the United States to kill, and have no idea how to fit back in society? Is it trying to call attention to the plight of the South Americans living in terror of drug lords? Or is it really just an excuse to watch a bunch of shouty dudes fire off their loud weapons? I’m going to go with the last option.

That doesn’t necessarily make Triple Frontier a bad movie. It just doesn’t make it good, either. Triple Frontier straddles the line between the unapologetic cheese of Den of Thieves, and the seriousness of Zero Dark Thirty (whose screenwriter, Mark Boal, also co-wrote this). I only wish it would’ve made up its mind to lean one way or another. As it stands, the movie is entirely watchable (albeit a bit long, at a little over 2 hours). Like the main characters in the film, it gets the job done, and does so in an extremely sloppy manner. But don’t be surprised if you’re entertained.

/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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Triple Frontier opens in select theaters on March 6 before arriving on Netflix on March 13.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net