After a troubled development process, Triple Frontier, a military heist drama, has dropped on Netflix. Originally fronted by Paramount, Frontier was to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow (she retains producer credit) and starring Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp.
In its final form, it is directed by J.C. Chandor and starring Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, and Charlie Hunnam. Bigelow left the picture, reportedly to focus her attention on her upcoming Bowe Bergdahl film. In spite of the loss of studio and revolving door of creative names associated with it, Triple Frontier appears as a finished film. It is fully realized, both narratively and visually.
What this full realization amounts to, however, leaves something to be desired.
The picture tasks Oscar Isaac’s Santiago “Pope” Garcia with banding together a crew of his old military buddies to instigate a heist and execution of Lorea, a crime lord who has been wreaking havoc on Santiago’s home town in Brazil for years.
For a down-and-dirty heist picture, Frontier takes an interesting, at times compelling approach. Its pacing deliberate, some of the characters’ rapidly-building hubris takes shape before our eyes, giving us a sort of dramatic irony in that we are fully aware that their chances of success are slim. Without divulging spoilers, the narrative structuring involving some key props is the most intriguing aspect of the script, as it shows us the characters’ true selves.
Problem is, these true selves are not entirely engaging. Singular, often one-dimensional motivations drive these five men. As the heist commences, some of these motivations are revealed, adding a wrinkle to the character and the mission as a whole. The constancy of other characters’ motivations are, comparatively, surprising. How these various drives cause unrest in the group incite the conflict. But as dynamic as the conflict is, the characters remain consistently flat.
This is without mentioning the film’s conclusion, a have-your-cake-and-it-eat-too moment where some characters appear to wash their hands clean of their immoral actions, when in reality their gesture is purely symbolic. This conflicting resolution caps off an action-drama with a lot of verve but not a lot of substance, what one might consider a high order guilty pleasure film.
It is high order in its rather exquisite visual construction. Chandor and DP Roman Vasyanov utilize depth and staging to a dynamic end. Action on the ground in a Brazilian favela, in the outlying mountains, and onboard an overweight helicopter is all distinctly shot. It is a good looking film.
But its narrative goals are simple. Its characters benefit from casting and stand out for their lack of appeal. The end result can be fun and bombastic, but it also fails on its aspirations to live up to something bigger. It is, not to diminish the exhibition abilities of online platforms, a perfect Netflix film, in that it disappoints less by being a casual watch. Throw it on in the background, and perhaps it will draw you in.
Triple Frontier: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)