Post updated August 17th, 2019 at 02:00 pm
Triple Frontier isn’t about a group of military and former military personnel coming together to kill the biggest drug lord in Columbia and steal his money. It isn’t a heist film. The heist scene, though engrossing and tense, happens relatively quickly and early on in the film. This also isn’t a story about a pack of warriors on a mission to liberate a nation (though they seem to have convinced themselves that they are). Somewhere in the second act of the film, a character says, “he didn’t die for money. He died because of it.” This a line that perfectly encapsulates what the film is truly about: A group of men who are blinded by greed and intoxicated by green bills.
Oscar Isaac’s Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia works for a private military team combating narcotics-related crime in Columbia. One day, his beautiful informant (he has a reputation of having attractive informants whom he sleeps around with) asks him for help to smuggle her out of the country. In exchange, she provides him with intel on the whereabouts of a big-time drug lord that Pope has been trying to take down for years. A kingpin named Lorea whose house doubles as a safe that stores upwards of 75 million dollars.
A large part of the first half is Pope trying to get his old band back together. We have Ben Affleck as Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis, a former military tactician who now spends most of his time driving an old truck and failing miserably at his real estate job. His wife left him, he’s struggling to pay the bills and support his teenage daughter, yet is somehow stocked up on beer. How is it that they always have enough money for booze?
We also have Charlie Hunnam’s William ‘Ironhead’ Miller. He gives motivational speeches to young military recruits and never fails to include the story about how he once choked a man until he pissed himself simply because he didn’t move his cart. There’s also ‘catfish’ (Pedro Pascal) a pilot who’s under suspension for doing cocaine and Ironhead’s brother Ben Miller, who’s been reduced to fighting low-level MMA matches for some pennies and nickels. He doesn’t get a sick middle name, probably because he’s the least famous of the ensemble.
It takes some convincing, but eventually, all of them agree to go on this illegal mission with Pope. They all desperately want the money. The heist sorta goes according to plan, but Triple Frontier is about what happens after. The team expected to walk away with 75 million dollars, but in the house, they discover more than 200 million. Some of them are happy to take the 75 million and get the heck out of there. But the eyes of some others, particularly Redfly, begin to thirstily lust for all of it. You can feel the drunkenness and obsession kicking in. He wants more!
Had they stuck to the plan, they would’ve been out of the country, chilling at a beach house they just purchased, easy peasy. But they’re greedy. They salivate for money like a starving puppy for a delicious bloody steak. In fact, they have such an insurmountable hunger for money that they’re willing to take risk after risk, even if it means putting their life on the line. Even if it means bending their morals, which as the film chugs along begin to fade away slowly.
Director J.C Chandor (who helmed the solid A Most Violent Year also starring Oscar Isaac) captures the film’s theme with some interesting shots. He allows the camera to linger on the group of men laughing over a stack of burning cash. It’s as if the money is chewing away at their sanity. I also like the top down shot of bags of money being thrown over a cliff into a bottomless pit… into a void.
I don’t think I will ever stop being fascinated by the world we dive into here. Drugs, mules (both figurative and literal), bags of black money, men who perform dangerous and life-threatening acts and then laugh about it over beers like it’s a regular Tuesday. Men who are addicted to the grimness of the underbellies — at one point Affleck’s character says he feels better whenever he has a gun in his hand. Men who refer to gunshot wounds as mosquito bites. It’s absolutely alluring.
If only the film had a stronger sense of style and personality. One of the reasons why Sicario is such a masterstroke is because of Denis Villeneuve’s brute style. There’s a sense of eeriness to the picture that forces you to look behind your shoulder at all times. You sneeze while you’re watching it because you can feel the grime and the dust seeping out of the screen and filling up the cinema. The darkness felt real and scary. Triple Frontier, on the other hand, lacks a palpable atmosphere and mood.
It also lacks colourful personalities. Our protagonists seem to share a collective identity. Besides Redfly who’s easily the most textured character (also, Affleck is the master of wearing a face you just feel like slapping), the rest of them lack distinct individual characteristics. The only reason you remember them is because they’re famous actors you’re already familiar with. The likes of Oscar Isaac and Pedro Pascal are incapable of delivering lousy performances, but they’re not given challenging enough roles to dig deep and shine.
The characters also don’t say or do anything interesting. A film of this nature requires a more unfiltered approach. The genre thrives of sexuality, violence, lunacy and vivid and filthy dialogue mouthed by layered characters. That said, Triple Frontier is still a satisfying exploration of greed, one that offers enough thrills to keep you engaged throughout.