Film Review: Triple Frontier (2019), dir. J.C. Chandor
by Belle McIntyre
This is a very handsome film and super masculine. The five leading male actors, the locations in South American jungles and Andes mountains, and the lush cinematography of Roman Vasyanov are major eye candy. Based on a story written by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) it should not be a surprise that there is plenty of danger and violence. Director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, A Most Violent Year) is very accomplished at creating and sustaining tension from a distance as well as up close. What we have is an action-thriller, heist film based on a reunion of five former Special Forces operatives for one last mission.
The set-up feels a bit contrived. Beginning with Pope (Oscar Isaacs), a military contractor, leading a raid in a South American village in an effort to locate Gabrieal Lorea, a drug cartel leader. He blows up a nightclub and arrests a lot of usual suspects but misses his target again. Apparently he has been doing this for years and is fed up with getting nowhere using sanctioned methods. And he knows things that he should not know which give him ideas.
Next we see him at a gathering of soldiers in Florida listening to a counselor advising a group of soon to be retiring Special Forces operatives not to try to take their particular skills with them into their civilian lives. This is a key element in explaining the allure of the plan which makes up the rest of the film. The premise that nothing will ever equal the experience of being 200% focused on a dangerous mission for which you are uniquely qualified through rigorous training and there is zero ambivalence. They believed in the nobility of what they were doing. That this is the ultimate experience of these men’s lives is how Pope woos four of his old buddies from back in the day, to go along with his scheme to kill the notorious drug lord on their own. Oh, and by the way, this time there is a significant cash reward. Finances are definitely an issue for all of these guys.
While some of this story line is predictable - humdrum lives, faded glory days, a chance to recapture the rapture. There is also a moral dilemma which ripples through the caper when the men discover that they have been misled by Pope and that what they are doing is actually a free-lance operation with no legal sanction and no accountability. The five men, who are chosen for their specific skills are Redfly (Ben Affleck), Ironhead (Charley Hunnam), Ben (Garrett Hedlund), and Catfish (Pedro Pascal). They each know their jobs and quickly adjust to their roles. The initial stage goes off unconvincingly easily. However, the quantity of cash that they discover completely undermines their reason and skews their judgement with tragic consequences. And the rest of the film involves getting themselves and the money out of the country, which turns out to be way more complicated than they imagined. The testosterone levels are high with too much heart-stopping danger and brutal violence.
I found much of the storyline hard to swallow. The hubris of these five to think that they could pull off this mission that all manner of paramilitary troops could not. The crazy risks they take to save the ridiculous amount of cash, which would have been impossible for five men to conceal even if they could get it out of the country becomes absurd and over the top. The fact that one of the men gets wounded but manages to survive and trek across the Andes for five days is unconvincing. When one of them is killed and they finally come to their senses and out from under the spell of the hundreds of millions of dollars and regain their moral compasses, the point of it all finally comes into focus. It could be read as an indictment of too much blind commitment which overrides individual humanity and rationality, especially in war. As well, it is surely an indictment of the corrosiveness of vast quantities of money on normal people.
You can watch a trailer for the film here