Have you ever seen a movie trailer and thought the film could go one of two ways: great or awful? Those were my reservations about Triple Frontier, the latest direct-release action film by Netflix. There were some factors that made me hopeful: the cast is great, especially with Oscar Isaac taking the lead role. Most importantly, its directed by J.C. Chandor, who made what I consider to be the criminally underrated A Most Violent Year, and screen-written by In the Valley of Elah, The Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty‘s Mark Boal. Thankfully, Triple Frontier falls somewhere in the middle, ending up much better than worse. Its a solid action film that, while featuring a script that could be better, boasts enough twists and edge-of-your-seat moments to keep you interested.
The movie opens with Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Isaac), a former Delta Force operator, advising a Colombian police force combating drug trade. During a raid, he encounters a woman who asks for his aid in fleeing the country in exchange for the location of a notorious drug lord. He learns that this drug lord has a safehouse stacked with millions in cash in the middle of the jungle. Pope subsequently sets out to form a recon team of former elite special ops buds to seize the cash, but things quickly go south for the squad.
Besides the exciting opening raid scene, I was fairly bored with this film during the first act. It seemed that it was going in the direction of a generic action film that followed a stereotypical plot line from literally dozens of films before. Thankfully, I was fooled. This movie follows a direction that I wasn’t totally expecting, not a major twist, but a testament to it’s self-aware need to break the mold. Ultimately, our heroes fail more than they succeed. What I appreciated the most about this movie was how it characterized the protagonists as completely out of their element. They are no longer elite operators, but have shoe-horned themselves in a situation where they thought they could relive their wartime experiences. They’re out of touch and over zealous, and this mentality plays as an extended downfall for the team. Normally this kind of plot-line is done in westerns or superhero/vigilante movies, so applying it to the squad-based action film was definitely refreshing.
Thankfully, the movie looks and sounds good too. Chandor picked Roman Vasyanov from Fury and End of Watch for cinematography, and he succeeds immensely with some really incredible shots and consistently beautiful scenes. His work heightens the impact of the film’s exciting action sequences; I was particularly impressed by an exciting sequence involving a helicopter as the team flees the safehouse. I was also pleased to see that Disasterpiece was brought in to do the soundtrack, as I’d been wanting to see his name attached to a movie since his awesome work on It Follows. The visuals, production design, and overall editing make for a film that was clearly well thought out.
Of course the film has downfalls. With our team of retired special ops comes the extremely typical dynamic of generic dull personalities. This is largely I think because its near impossible to capture the true darkly-comic personalities that you’ll find in the special ops community without freaking the audience out. Boal has worked extensively with the military before, so I trust his guidance was the best they could give their otherwise talented actors, but the team still comes off as pretty uninteresting. The script is also very hammy at times, and ultimately, because of the narrative, I found some serious pacing issues during the first and end of the third acts. Also, I’ll rarely complain about costume design, but whoever gave the cast their clothes and gear must’ve been half blind, because they stand out like sore thumbs in their environments. Nitpicky I know, but as they’d change some aspects like clothing layers, it distracted me more than it should. (You probably won’t care but I’m a dork like that)
Overall, Triple Frontier is solid action, and adds enough drama and tensity to fulfill most people’s need for a good thriller. I was expecting worse, but got a pretty decent film. Sure it’s often very generic, but the film editing is exciting enough and the narrative unique enough to keep the audience engaged. If you’re struggling to find a good movie on Netflix, don’t pass on Triple Frontier.