Film Critic Matt Taylor reviews Triple Frontier, a harmlessly watchable Netflix Original action film just about saved by an all-star cast
The action genre is one that is especially well-worn. Many action movies of the past decade or so have been forgettable affairs, with remarkably few being any fun to watch. Even fewer manage to put an entertaining spin on the genre’s tropes, or find space to be original (recent examples of these would be Steve McQueen’s Widows, or WWII zombie flick Overlord). JC Chandor’s Triple Frontier is new to Netflix this month, his fourth directorial feature since his debut in 2011. Coming off the back of successful films such as All is Lost and A Most Violent Year, Chandor’s latest hopes to continue the good run that he’s on.
The film follows a group of US military veterans, played by Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund. Years after retirement from service, each is struggling to get by in their own way, until Isaac’s character recruits them to plan a heist that will take down one of Colombia’s biggest drug lords. A recon mission quickly turns into execution of the heist, with an expected take of $75 million that would set up each of the men nicely on returning home.
Triple Frontier’s biggest strength is easily its cast. With four actors who have proven themselves multiple times as being fantastic leads, and Hedlund on great form too, solid performances are what we would expect. Chandor’s script (co-written with Mark Boal) gives the five of them plenty to work with, and all are clearly dedicated. Affleck and Isaac are given the most focus. Their dynamic is the film’s main driving force, and they each sell it beautifully. Affleck’s Tom Davis was among the best of his unit, but since retirement has been divorced and is selling condos when we meet him at the film’s beginning. Though at first he is resistant to the idea of getting back in the field, he relishes the opportunity to carry out some proper work again. Isaac plays Santiago Garcia, the only one of the five still involved in military work. He works as a private military advisor in Colombia, and when he gets some info on drug lord Lorea, who he has been after for years, he recruits the gang. It is these two who get the most focus and development – indeed, they are the only two that have ‘arcs’ as such – but the easygoing chemistry between the whole group makes it extremely easy for us to believe that they were in the military together. Hunnam puts in an especially good shift. Since his excellent stint in FX’s Sons of Anarchy he has sadly had very few roles, but his turn here as Will Miller serves to ground the film in realism. Miller is never afraid to call others out, and his dynamic with his brother (Hedlund) is especially rocky, but he is constantly an engaging screen presence who also manages to be the group’s moral compass. Hedlund and Pascal get less to work with, but again give engaging performances to ensure that we never bore of their characters.
However, the same cannot be said about the film’s narrative. For an action movie, it has disappointingly little action. The sequences we are treated to are fantastic – it is just a shame that there are so few of them. The gaps between them are so long that the film struggles to keep its momentum for the 125-minute runtime, meaning that, sadly, there are spots of it that drag, and noticeably so. The narrative itself takes place over too long a time period, resulting in long spells where very little of consequence happens. For a Netflix Original film, this is a killer. The reasons to stay tuned into Triple Frontier are definitely here, but they are so spread out that I would not be surprised if many people switch off around the halfway point. Perhaps ten minutes shaved off its runtime, and a stronger sense of immediacy would have helped things along hugely, resulting in a tight, tense thriller that we only see flashes of here.
Those flashes, however, are superb. The heist sequence itself is worthy of special mention; it is a brilliantly shot and directed sequence of prolonged tension. In the best way possible, it feels as though it is never going to end – the infiltration of Lorea’s house is unbearably tense, as is the group’s prolonged exit strategy. The revelations and conflicts that arise within the house serve to keep us on the edge of our seats, and the sheer skill with which the group carries out the operation reminds us of their combined experience and expertise in this area. A later ambush sequence is just as tense, if not more so. The shock, uncertainty and paranoia that the scene pushes make it clear to us that Chandor knows how to write and direct an action sequence, and how to work in character as well. It is unfortunate that there are not more scenes such as this throughout the film.
The film’s ending feels a little lacking, too. The resolution to the narrative itself is fantastic – again Chandor shows us that he does know what he’s doing – but the final moments somehow manage to undercut one of the most compelling character arcs. Without spoiling anything, a superb piece of character work is seemingly undone, ending the film on a frustrating note. Aside from this and the uneven narrative, Triple Frontier is perfectly watchable and entertaining. It’s just a shame that it could have been so much more.
Verdict: While JC Chandor’s latest is a harmlessly watchable affair, it fails to live up to the standards he has set himself. Triple Frontier has plenty going for it, not least of which are the incredible performances and superbly tense action scenes, but a wonky narrative, an overlong runtime, and a frustrating ending sadly hold it back from being something truly great. While it is hardly a game-changer, it is at least reasonably entertaining.