From the director of All Is Lost & A Most Violent Year, Triple Frontier presents J.C. Chandor tackling yet another different genre, this time an action heist thriller, to further widen his creative grasp & improve his filmmaking skillset without discarding the human themes that are hugely responsible for making his earlier works so richly captivating.
The first half of Triple Frontier is your standard heist flick that follows the established genre formula down to a tee and doesn’t try to do much to set itself apart from other similar examples. But it’s the second half where Chandor brings his trademark themes into play to test the bonds that unite these characters by pushing their skills, loyalties & morals to a breaking point.
The story concerns a team of former Special Forces operatives who reunite for one last operation, this time not for their country but themselves. Their target is a South American drug lord hiding in the jungles in a safe house that stashes all his cash. But when the operation takes an unexpected turn, the team finds themselves stuck on foreign soil with more problems than they can handle.
Written by Mark Boal & directed by J.C. Chandor, Triple Frontier does a lot many things right yet its effect is nullified by a complete lack of character depth & script refinement. Despite the notion of strong brotherhood between these characters, their individual arc is never compelling as the story does the bare minimum to unite them together, and doesn’t give the viewers enough to earn their emotional investment in the unit.
It’s the same old template at play here: Five lives with barely functioning livelihoods decide to take a perilous job that will buy them a financially stable future until things spiral out of control and leave them in a world of pain. These characters with hooah mentality aren’t interesting to begin with, their interactions don’t pack any emotional punch whatsoever either, and this is why the film’s deliberately slowed down second half feels a bit drawn out.
The director’s attempts to explore the bonds between these veterans, the emotions that are driving their actions and the friction that arises when their impulsive action leads to unintended consequences rightfully serves the story, and even the themes of desperation, greed, revenge, unity & humanity are addressed properly. But it still isn’t effective enough due to poor characterisation which prevents the story from achieving its intended goals.
Despite all the shortcomings, there is still a little freshness to the film’s half-hearted attempts to subvert its genre. The grim & gritty camerawork captures the events in fine detail & clear-cut fashion. There aren’t too many action scenes in here but what’s there is expertly carried out. Also competently handled is the logistics of the situation these veterans find themselves in, particularly the difficulty of moving around a large sum of money and the moral repercussions of violence inflicted by them.
Packing a beefy cast of Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund & Pedro Pascal, the performances are serviceable at most. Isaac & Affleck manage to get in their elements but only at times, not always. Hunnam & Pascal chip in with passable inputs. And Hedlund surprisingly comes out looking more impressive than the rest. Their collective effort exhibits a sense of brotherhood, there is no denying that, but they are just not that interesting individually.
On an overall scale, Triple Frontier is an above average entry in relation to the long list of duds that have come out of Netflix canon and is definitely a mediocre addition to J.C. Chandor’s oeuvre when compared to his previous directorial efforts. Though there are hints of brilliance scattered throughout the narrative, not to mention that the film is tense & thrilling on few occasions, but had it implemented a sharper screenplay, a more compact structure, meaty character sketches & better pacing, Triple Frontier would’ve delivered a far more rewarding experience than what it eventually settles for.