Machismo and money intersect in a glossy, mostly compelling film about a high-stakes heist in South America, starring Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac
At this stage, given their ever-increasing prolificacy, the very definition of what a Netflix original movie is has become a bit foggy. Unlike a smaller independent, whose library of titles might share surface-level similarities, the streaming giant has morphed into a bigger studio, churning out films across all genres, trying to do it all and sometimes, just sometimes, actually succeeding.
Its latest, and one of its biggest to date, is Triple Frontier, an action thriller that feels very much like a glossy theatrical release, and one whose messy route through development hell reveals that for a long time, it was intended as such. Originally primed as a Paramount picture, to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow and with a rotating cast that has at times included Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy, Mark Wahlberg, Channing Tatum and Mahershala Ali, its a project that has been a hot property since 2010. In its small-screen incarnation (it will receive a small one-week theatrical window), its easy to see the appeal although even easier to see why it has ended up on Netflix.
Pope (Oscar Isaac) is a special forces operative whos spent the last three years trying to catch a powerful drug lord close to the Triple Frontier, the border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. When an informant reveals not only his whereabouts but that his house is where he keeps his many millions, Pope hatches a plan. Rather than do it by the book, he will corral his old colleagues, now back in the US trying to lead so-called normal lives, into helping him plan heist. While there are echoes of a greater good, the men are mostly driven by greed and as the plan unfolds, their loyalties to one another become tested.
Rather like the characters themselves, the film-makers motivations are similarly straightforward. Directed by JC Chandor, whose work includes financial crash drama Margin Call and 80s crime saga A Most Violent Year, from a script he wrote with Mark Boal, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Hurt Locker, one might assume from their prior credits that theyve tasked themselves with adding some weight to the films muscular framework. While there are throwaway references to PTSD and how poorly military veterans are treated by the US government, Triple Frontier is mostly concerned with providing unambiguous entertainment, an easily consumed adventure for a broad, undemanding Netflix viewership.
Taken on these terms, its an enjoyable enough way to spend two hours but without any commentary or real depth, its in need of a bit more suspense or conflict to really oil the wheels, the film too often ambling along when it should be racing. The buildup to the heist is admirably detailed on the logistics but less so on characterisation, the men mostly interchangeable. They might not be quite as high-wattage as some of the names once attached, but Chandor has assembled a solid ensemble with Isaac surrounded by Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal. While Hunnam strains to make his American accent believable once again and Affleck is stuck delivering lines in his comically over-egged Batman voice, the remaining team members help to fill in the many gaps left by the script while also making some of the clunkier, on-the-nose lines work (Its like they take the best 20 years of your life and then spit you out).
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