Triple Frontier movie review: Netflix delivers the best Ben Affleck film in many, many years
Director - JC Chandor
Cast - Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal
Rating - 4/5
Director JC Chandor’s Triple Frontier is the first high-profile Netflix original film of 2019, after the streaming service made resounding leaps towards legitimacy with a spectacular 2018 that culminated with the glorious Roma. It is also perhaps one of the best examples of the tightrope that they are walking in terms of balancing a populist approach yet maintaining an auteur-driven identity.
Triple Frontier has that ‘something for everyone’ quality that could either work in its favour, or be its undoing. It constantly keeps reinventing itself every 15 minutes; it goes from gritty drug drama to slick heist movie, and then transforms into an old-school Western, and ends as a survival thriller/ chase film. Understandably, this may be too much for an audience looking for cheap thrills, but for Chandor and his cast, it’s an excuse to play in five movies instead of one, and to use genre to make important subtextual statements about violence, vengeance and warfare.
Watch the Triple Frontier trailer here
Five former military veterans, bitter about the sorry hand they’ve been dealt by their country despite literally taking bullets for it, plan to take down a larger-than-life Mexican drug lord and keep all his dirty money for themselves. That is about as much as you need to know going in, and it is roughly a summation of what was shown in the film’s trailer.
Immediately after having seen it, I remember thinking that the trailer had essentially revealed the entire film’s plot. But it turns out that Netflix has taken the Marvel approach to marketing this film, in that what we’ve seen so far is - to make an informed guesstimate - mostly footage from the first 30 minutes.
The element of surprise has largely disappeared from modern mainstream moviemaking. And one of Triple Frontier’s greatest accomplishments is how confidently it topples the expectations of a wary and weathered audience. It swerves around into strange and wonderful new directions in its remaining hour-and-a-half, piling set-piece upon set-piece, balancing action (of different styles) with deft character work and brazen political ideas.
And although Ben Affleck is (understandably) the top-billed actor in the credits, Oscar Isaac is ostensibly the film’s lead. It is he who plays the Bruce Wayne-style role, and rounds up his old brothers for the job. Charlie Hunnam is delivering ‘inspirational’ speeches to future recruits, and for the first time his typical wooden delivery makes sense. His (actual) brother, played by Garrett Hedlund, is an MMA fighter. Pedro Pascal is once again playing one of his snaky charmers, and Affleck is peddling real estate. They are united by their feelings of resentment towards what they have sacrificed for their country - personally, physically and professionally - and what they have received in return.
They are promised that the drug lord Lorea - an unseen entity who lingers like a spectre in the film’s opening act - has a stash of close to $75 million, which will be more than fair compensation for all their troubles, past and present.
Triple Frontier is part-morality tale about selfishness and greed and corruption, part-parable about the perils of military intervention, but more importantly, it’s an insanely entertaining movie. Of course, it’s slightly off-putting that it’s so bashfully masculine (especially in this day and age), but that can be largely credited to writer Mark Boal’s creative inclinations.
Boal, the Academy Award-winning writer of recent Kathryn Bigelow films such as The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit, is in many ways the only constant in Triple Frontier’s long and precarious journey to the (small) screen. Numerous actors - Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Tom Hardy to name a few - have signed on and dropped out, several directors were attached before Chandor, including Bigelow, and the film moved from Paramount to Netflix. It’ll be interesting to know just how majorly (or not) Boal’s original screenplay has changed in these years. One would imagine every lead actor having suggested certain adjustments to tailor the role to suit them, but something tells me Affleck just went along for the ride.
He is, for the first time in many years, visibly enthusiastic about acting - and at the very least, he doesn’t have that look of pure contempt that was plastered on his face for most of Justice League.