Former elite soldiers go on an Expendables-like heist in J.C. Chandor’s (“All Is Lost,” “A Most Violent Year”) indelibly exciting and pulse-pounding “Triple Frontier.”
The film, written by journalist turned screenwriter Mark Boal of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” fame, begins rather familiarly as Oscar Isaac’s Santiago reconnects with his former Special Ops buddies hoping they will join him on a high-paying, very illegal legal operation in South America, the film eventually turns into a cautionary tale about greed, very much akin to past classics “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “Wages of Fear”
Ben Affleck’s Tom is a former op, divorced dad, struggling with his real-estate job who decides to join Santiago’s mission. Ditto Pedro Pascal’s Francisco, and Charlie Hunnam’s William who manages his brother Ben (Garrett Hedlund), a journeyman MMA fighter who is as lost in life as anybody else is on this special ops team. They’re all unheralded and heroic patriots. “You’ve been shot five times for your country and you can’t afford a new truck,” Santiago tells Tom. They all need cash. They all feel lost and insignificant.
Santiago’s mission has them journeying to “La Triple Frontera,” the border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, which sounds like a death mission to us, but these guys are so confident about the success rate that they go along with it. They haven’t failed as agents in the past, as they were top of their class for years, and this just feels like another mission to them. Stealing a South American drug lord’s millions in cash stashed in his home seems like an easy enough job, especially when they plan to storm the mansion while the drug lord’s family is at church, so that no innocents are killed — these guys, after all, have a moral compass.
Playing exclusively in theaters for a week before streaming on Netflix, “Triple Frontier” has strong, but not overtly impressive performances. If anything Isaac comes out on top, yet again, in a role tailor-made for his fluent Spanish and affirmative leading-man chops. Ever since his career-boosting turn in the Coens’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the 39-year-old actor has become one of the best actors around, delivering soulfully nuanced work in almost anything he does. Affleck is surprisingly subtle, the soul of the film, the character you care for the most, as his decision to purposely underact his character results in the depiction of a man with few words, keeping the tension in his life bottled in, but whose face can tell a million emotions at once. Affleck’s Tom is a twisted, wounded soul whose wife has left him and whose daughter sees him as disappointment. The burnt up anger in this guy is damn-near palpable; it’s easily Affleck’s best performance since 2014’s “Gone Girl.”
Chandor continues to show his talents for expertly choreographed, hold-your-breath action sequences, just as he did in his past two movies. His camera, aided by cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (“End of Watch” “Fury”) shows the chops of a confident maestro, a filmmaker who is in total control of his mise-en-scene, even if he’s detrimented by Boal’s all-too-stuffy, twist-filled screenplay that sometimes feels rote and predictable.
Nevertheless, Chandor is a visual master and in “Triple Frontier” he creates an epic and visceral adventure that’s the kind of action movie that feels like it is part of a bygone Hollywood era, one in which smartly-delivered action spectacles used to be the norm. [B+]