I knew little going into Triple Frontier save for the obvious. The film is being released theatrically for a short window before hitting Netflix, it’s directed by J.C Chandor (whose Margin Call, All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year gained plenty of attention), and it stars Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac. This isn’t unusual, but this movie left me with more questions that required some digging.
For from the opening credits, things seemed odd. Kathyrn Bigelow’s name showed up as a credited producer, making me think (correctly) that she’d passed on the project. The script is by Mark Boal, who wrote Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. As the film played out, it certainly felt like a watered-down production that was too long in development, with too many cooks putting their hands in the soup. It almost feels like this was once a clever, dark tale of brotherhood, where ex-military buddies gather for one last score. Instead, it’s diluted so much that all its spice has been tamed, and all that’s left is something bland and forgettable.
Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal join the other two actors in this bros-in-a-jungle tale, following Isaac’s lead trying to steal millions from a South American drug lord. You can almost taste that it was once a throwback both to 1980s war films and 1940s WWII adventures, where greed overtakes mission readiness. The story is ripe for exploration – what happens to warriors when they rejoin normalcy, are underappreciated for their sacrifice, and still jones for the adrenaline rush that they’d become acclimated to? This is hinted at, but it’s glossed over by mediocre staging and dour dialogue.
Affleck in particular looks miserable, lacking any spark under his tough guy exterior. It’s a shame; he’s a great talent but it seems that he continues to struggle with his own demons. As a result, his character feels more morose than conflicted. Isaac is always charismatic, but he too doesn’t keep us rapt with his character’s moral shifts. Hunnam and Hedlund always seem a bit generic and fade as well, while Pedro Pascal proves that he deserves much more than he’s been given theatrically.
During the film’s long road to screens, numerous other actors were tagged, from Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp to Channing Tatum, Tom Hardy and Mahershala Ali. We can’t know what the project would have been with any of them, but each immediately evokes more complex (and thus more engaging) turns for these characters. Hanks could have been really fascinating, twisting his Saving Private Ryan ethos into a criminal vigilante. Alas, what we wound up with is a very down-the-middle tale where action and male bonding take place in equal measure.
Shooting in and around Hawaii, the movie feels more like episodic television than a feature film. Its color palette is subdued and the action sequences feel predictable even when veering towards the preposterous. The stakes are high enough but never brutal enough, and echoes of movies like Sicario compare unfavorably.
The story meanders, the tone is uneven, and we stop worrying about the characters’ decisions as they clearly betray all the careful planning and professionalism they purported to have at the outset. All these problems make Triple Frontier as awkward as its title, a gung-ho trifle that never quite coheres into the smart, dark thriller it could have been.