Triple Frontier, directed by J.C. Chandor, has all the makings of a thrilling action film with a strong cast. Unfortunately, however, despite a promising first act, it starts to lose itself in the second act and falls short of greatness. While it does hold some strong performances from leading actors, the script gives them little to work with and no room for dimension, ultimately resulting in an underwhelming film with wasted potential.
The film wastes no time jumping into action. Introducing us to Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), who is performing a raid on a supposed hideout for a drug cartel in Colombia. Specifically, he is trying to take down a drug lord named Lorea, whom he has been tracking for years. He learns from his informant Yovanna (Adria Arjona) that Lorea is storing his $75 million fortune in his safehouse in the jungle, and Pope quickly sets off to gather a team of old war buddies, all former special forces, to organize a heist. One by one he recruits Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck), William “Ironhead” Miller (Charlie Hunnam), Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund), and Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Pedro Pascal) for their various specialties. Though the group is at first apprehensive due to the morally gray nature of the operation, they are all struggling financially and eventually agree to help Pope steal the money for themselves.
The film focuses less on the heist itself but instead utilizes it as the turning point and focuses on what follows. The team travels to Lorea’s safehouse in the South American jungle, and discover the walls filled with cash. They find out a far more significant amount than initially estimated and begin to lose sight of what they came there for, as they pack more and more bags and miss the “hard out” exit time. Things go south as they make their getaway, and the team’s morals, loyalty, and motives are all tested by the obstacles they encounter. While the idea of deteriorating morality when face to face with millions of dollars is an incredibly compelling premise, the film fails to make any particularly exciting points.
Without a doubt, the film contains its thrills and action, but stumbles in several critical areas. The most glaring issue was the wildly inconsistent characterization of the leading men. While it is clear that the film is trying to make points about what greed can do, it is difficult to understand the motives behind the careless mistakes they make in their operation. None of the characters contain much depth for the actors to work with, beyond throwaway lines about their backstory or family, which is a shame, as the cast is incredibly strong. Because of this poor writing, it makes it challenging to latch on to any of the characters and empathize with them. Affleck, in particular, suffers from the weak script, as his characterization fluctuates whenever it is convenient for the story. Even so, his character has the most developed backstory out of the team, making a lot of the decisions they make motivationally baffling. What could have been a fascinating dive on how greed can corrupt morals and loyalty becomes more frustrating than anything else. Additionally, it contains kernels of exciting themes, such as the idea that these veterans, so inadequately supported by the country they fought for, turn to robbing a drug lord, but nothing particularly salient comes of these themes.
The messy production history is perhaps an explanation for why Triple Frontier is lacking in crucial areas. Originally, Katheryn Bigelow was set to direct before dropping out to focus on other films. Throughout its time stuck in development, names such as Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Tom Hardy, Channing Tatum, and Mahershala Ali were all in talks for lead roles. When it was finally set to start shooting, Paramount dropped the project, which eventually found its way to Netflix. Such a tumultuous development is never a good sign for any film, and unfortunately, it seems that Triple Frontier was never really able to find its footing.
Though Triple Frontier has a great soundtrack and impressive visuals, it is unfortunately not enough to redeem the film’s weak finish. The ending is not particularly deserved and feels incomplete and dissatisfying. What is supposed to be an exciting character study resulting from a caper gone wrong ends up feeling very flat and empty, leaving the viewer wondering why they should even care. The action is definitely entertaining, and it will keep you on the edge of your seat, but unfortunately, it loses its way and has nothing particularly noteworthy to bring to the already crowded table of action thrillers.