'Triple Frontier' Review: Your Dad's New Favorite Movie Is Also Really Good
Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunham, Oscar Isaac, and more Hollywood dudes rob a Colombian drug lord in Netflix's newest, and very exciting, heist thriller.
There is not a single movie this year that is more “manly” than Triple Frontier. Featuring exotic locales, guns, Metallica, and grunting veterans putting it all on the line for a fat payday, Netflix’s newest latest streaming feature, acquired after years of starts and stops with rotating A-list actors, narrowly avoids being the Suicide Squad of 2019. Instead, this movie is so much better — and just a little smarter — than its lunkheaded appearance implies.
It is, in essence, the exact kind of movie your dad would like. It also happens to be a very good movie entirely on its own merits.
A new thriller from director J.C. Chandor (2014’s A Most Violent Year), Triple Frontier is finally out of development hell and on Netflix beginning March 13. Originally slated to star everyone from Tom Hanks to Tom Hardy, the film now features Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunham, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund as a group of U.S. military veterans who have nothing to show for their service except overdue bills and bad knees.
Rotting away as real estate agents, amateur MMA fighters, or bored security consultants, in comes a rare opportunity: A filthy rich Colombian drug lord with so many holes in his isolated compound it’s practically leaking. Feeling owed something for their sacrifices, these men hatch a plan to steal his wealth using every ounce of their military training, but because it’s a heist movie, things go wrong. Hard.
Using the dark reality — 44% of veterans who served after 9/11 reported difficulty adjusting to civilian life — as the backdrop for a heist film might seem tasteless, but Triple Frontier is surprisingly careful in its execution.
The movie is a lot of things — intense, tightly-plotted, sometimes very fun — but what it isn’t is an exaggeration of straight male war fantasies. The lone female lead (Adria Arjona) is never framed from an obvious male gaze. The film’s violent firefights, in dimly-lit compounds or the gorgeous Andes Mountains, never look like a video game. When people get shot and die, they just die. Absent are the long, drawn-out gasps of blood pooling out of the mouth, or the melodramatic scene of an overpaid actor gunning for an Oscar. It’s brutal and potentially triggering if you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of seeing someone die with a bullet in the head.
There’s less flair here than in David O. Russell’s Three Kings, another “war heist” movie infinitely more kinetic in tone than Triple Frontier. When death visits Triple Frontier, it’s violent, quick, and as morbid as it needs to be, which plays to the film’s benefit: You know early on, during every tense minute of their planning sequences, that these men shouldn’t be here. When it starts to cost them, you feel the weight of their debt.
It’s made abundantly throughout Triple Frontier that its characters aren’t men who are lost because they’re absent from the rigorous structure of army life and its excuses to kill. What they’ve lost is purpose. Robbing a drug lord isn’t just overdue payment. For these guys, it’s about feeling useful again.
But while Triple Frontier maybe smarter than its marketing — a gaggle of Hollywood hunks in sick gear on the poster — may imply, it’s still not terribly intelligent, either. The movie muses on America’s poor treatment of veterans without laying actual blame towards the inefficiencies of the VA, or the grim reality that young recruits are sold on propaganda and empty promises.
The movie doesn’t much glorify a soldier’s duty either. The dead, empty eyes in a head with a bullet that only happened because of a get-rich-quick scheme went awry, says it all. These men are (and they are only men) caught in an ouroboros of fate, willing and able to risk their livelihoods because there’s really nothing left to lose.
Triple Frontier is a movie tailor-made for hetero dads and uncles, an antidote to those who take issue with the (totally imaginary) evolution that mainstream pop culture has gone soft. Triple Frontier is not soft, but it’s not offensive either. It has very worthy merits, from its ensemble actors at the apex of their game to a script that goes where you think it’ll go, but remains fulfilling and thrilling all throughout. I wish the film had a harsher critique over how we need to take better care of our own. But at a two-hour running time, the movie has only one job, and it does it well, with tactical precision.
Triple Frontier begins streaming on Netflix on March 13.