triple frontier

Triple Frontier

MPAA Rating: R | Rating: ★★★
Release year: 2019
Genre: Action Director: J.C. Chandor

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

The oft-misquoted Biblical passage above serves as an appropriate framing reference for Triple Frontier, the meditative machismo military film now on available on Netflix. Directed by J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost, A Most Violent Year) and co-written by Chandor and Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), this is action flick empty calories elevated by its stellar cast and keen direction. The film opens on retired captain William “Ironhead” Miller, a former Special Forces soldier giving a pep talk to a group of American soldiers on the cusp of retiring. With his polo tucked into his jeans and a visitor badge hanging from his belt, the only evidence of his previous military service is in his stories and his scars. It’s a stark contrast to his friend Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), who is helping police in the borderlands of South America apprehend a hard-to-catch drug lord, Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos), who is hiding in the jungle with a reputed $75 million in cash. With the help of a beautiful informant, Yovanna (Adria Arjona), Pope learns of Lorea’s location and hatches a scheme to liberate him of his wealth. To do so, Pope enlists the help of William and his maverick brother Benny (Garrett Hedlund), pilot Catfish Morales (Pedro Pascal), and–most importantly–the soldier-turned-realtor Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck). Redfly is the plan-maker, the one who can keep the team on task. These aging warriors, without a clear role in society nor a paycheck to keep them afloat, head to South America to ostensibly do some good, but really to pad their wallets.

The five actors each give excellent performances in their respective roles, particularly Affleck and Isaac. The idea to cast Hedlund and Hunnam as brothers is downright brilliant–if Boyd Holbrook were in this film, it’d be like looking at triplets. Evenly paced and with a grayed color palette, Triple Frontier is more procedural than action-packed, showing how the soldiers scout out the jungle compound, and following them on their trek through the South American landscape in order to move the money. What most films don’t care to show, but what Triple Frontier focuses on, is how heavy millions of dollars can be. The logistics of the heist are as important as the action itself. The weight of what these five men have done are literally holding them down; the helicopter they’ve enlisted for escape over the Andes mountains can’t make it over the peaks. Though the soldiers themselves must slog through jungles and mountain trails to reach their escape over the horizon, the film’s narrative never feels too slow, and there isn’t a single scene which doesn’t add to the plot or our understanding of these characters. It’s interesting to watch Affleck’s suburban dad and disciplined soldier transform into a greedy killing machine when the money is in their hands, imbuing the generic action/heist formula with a sense of moral stakes.

The religious references in Triple Frontier feel too numerous to be accidental, although I’m not sure how they play into the thematic whole. From the character of “Pope” to Yovanna’s crucifix necklace to the heist’s pretense–the soldiers break in on a Sunday while the drug lord’s family is at Catholic mass–there are numerous Christian allusions, perhaps due to the Latin American setting or perhaps intentionally calling to mind scriptural wisdom like the verse I shared above. As we know, the pursuit of money and personal gain at all costs is ultimately an empty or detrimental pursuit–the news this week about celebrities and CEOs paying thousands of dollars worth of bribes for their kids to get into elite universities is a fresh reminder. But when Redfly is dropping off his 15-year-old daughter at school after yet again failing to sell a Florida condo, the look of despair on his face–it’s Sad Affleck!–makes you sympathize for the guy. Yet as the five soldiers haul their bags of loot, the literal and metaphorical burden of what they’ve done takes a toll as the grief and bodycount rises. Triple Frontier is the action movie version of Rodrigo Mendoza hauling his heavy burden up a waterfall in The Mission. Come to think of it, “The Mission” is a good alternative title for Chandor’s film, religious symbolism and all.

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