Triple Frontier is a very taught, suspenseful high concept action thriller that benefits from the superb direction of J.C. Chandor, the underrated auteur behind A Most Violent Year and Margin Call. While nothing about the plot here screams subversive or original, Chandor maintains an intensity throughout both in the literal sense of whether the characters will escape alive, and by testing the character’s morally as they threaten to betray the honor codes they seemingly are bound by. It’s morally grey for the most part, which makes it inherently more interesting, but also just a great old fashioned suspense thriller with some truly riveting set pieces.
After gaining information about a high level target while executing a military operation in Colombia, “Santiago” (Oscar Isaac) puts together plans to rob a cartel with a rag tag group of operatives. He comes across his Special Forces allies, all of which work everyday jobs- “Redfly” (Ben Affleck) sells apartments, “Catfish” (Pedro Pascal) has been banned from commercial piloting, “Ironhead” (Charlie Hunnam) is a motivational speaker, and Ironhead’s brother Ben (Garret Hedlund) is an MMA fighter. The team assembles for a risky operation outside of the law that will test their morals as the heist goes south and they are forced to improvise.
Undoubtable, the film does a good job at presenting legitimate grievances from these veterans as they see that their life’s work has not seemed to pay off- screenwriter Mark Boal, who excelled in writing military dialogue with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty makes the dialogue feel smart and snappy. While there are surely unbelievable elements, it’s intersting to see how the ends don’t really justify the means as the mission is set back by countless setbacks, and the film is keen to test our perception of the characters as they make compromising decisions. We’re rooting for them nonetheless, and the film’s ending is the perfect ambiguous note to end the film on.
To match that, Chandor really knocks the set pieces out of the park, with an absolutely thrilling heist sequences early on that has our characters reassessing their plans and thinking on their feet every second of the way. Heist films usually grow less intersting after the main heist, but here the film morphs into something different overtime; at one point it’s a grim survival thriller in the wilderness that takes visual cues from Apocalypse Now, and the third act escape sequence is just edge of your seat stuff.
Affleck and Isaac have the most to do, and it’s neat that the film’s two biggest characters (and biggest names) are the most morally objectionable characters- Isaac in his misguided ideas about the operation from the beginning, and Affleck as his more brutal and self-serving side is brought out by the mission. Pascal, Hunnam, and Hedlund all take turns playing the moral center (though none feel 100% clean), and Hedlund and Hunnam’s brotherly dynamic worked as a added layer. The chemistry within the ensemble is terrific; there’s an implied history between all of them that is never clearly stated or laid out, but we understand purely due to the actors’ performances.
With Triple Frontier you have a unabashedly cool and entertaining heist thriller that pits great actors through danger after disadvantage at every turn, and it’s simply never dull. Perhaps the more exciting visceral elements that Chandor creates come into conflict with any sort of legitimate commentary that the film may be going for, but it’s such an engaging watch that those issues seem to dissipate. Grade: B+