“Triple Frontier” Movie Review


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     Beneath its outer shell, director J.C. Chandor’s “Triple Frontier” is actually tackling a number of issues that have faced our military veterans for decades.  Utilizing the same sort of approach used in 1982’s “First Blood”, the film tells the story of five ex special forces operators who now live on the outskirts of their previous occupation, barely making ends meet and feeling as though their sacrifices were never properly recognized, and their skill sets no longer meaningful in the civilian world.  “Triple Frontier” features a screenplay from Mark Boal, who boasts an Academy Award for “The Hurt Locker”, as well as a nomination for “Zero Dark Thirty”, but his work here never rises to the level of either of those films, even though he is revisiting familiar territory.

     Santiago Garcia (Oscar Isaac), a retired special forces operator, is a consultant for a private company supporting missions against drug cartels in South America.  The film begins with a dangerous arrest attempt of a notorious cartel lord holed up in a small town.  And when it becomes clear their adversaries are in possession of as much firepower as they are, Santiago transitions from his consultant role and utilizes his considerable skills to help overcome their well armed enemy.  But the operation doesn’t net their target, a mysterious unseen cartel boss named Lorea.

     The mission’s ultimate failure becomes a gain for Santiago, as he returns stateside to track down a few of his former co-workers who might be interested in teaming up one more time.  We first meet William Miller (Charlie Hunnam), a former special ops guy who spends his days lecturing new recruits as an accomplished soldier being brought in to give motivational speeches.  It’s not exactly what he had hoped for after retiring.  As Santiago sits in the back of a classroom while one of these talks is delivered, he knows William will be more than willing to listen to his proposal.  As will Ben (Garrett Hedlund), William’s also retired from special ops brother who is trying to make a living on the lower rungs of the MMA circuit, making a paltry $100 per fight.  And with their former pilot, Francisco Morales (Pedro Pascal) also desperate to find his way in the civilian world, there is only one more man to convince.

     All of these guys agree, without their former commander, Tom Davis (Ben Affleck), there is no mission.  As it’s said his ability to plan and execute an operation is unmatched.  And like his former charges, he struggles with daily life, now trying to make a living selling cheap condos and barely able to support his family.  But upon Santiago’s original presentation of what he refers to as his “work”, Tom balks at the idea, since he knows being gone doing covert operations around the world is as much to blame for his current situation as is his ability to adapt to civilian life is.  But as it turns out, there are many more good reasons for these guys to pass, given the long odds for success.  What Chandor and Boal have concocted here is the ultimate high risk - high reward scenario.  Exactly the kind of challenge any special ops guy would love to sink his teeth into.

     The initial portion of the job is actually legit.  The company Santiago works for wants the group to conduct a reconnaissance mission to document Lorea’s residence located deep in the Amazon jungle at the triple borders of Peru, Brazil, and Colombia.  Each man is guaranteed $17 thousand for one week of work, but Santiago has also devised an extension of that plan, which is also secretly backed by the same company.  In what would essentially mean these men conducting an operation for the first time without the support of their country, Santiago pitches a plan where they would enter the residence when the family goes to church, leaving only two guards on the property and the bulk of what is estimated to be a $50 million plus cash fortune.  And with an informant working on the inside who is able to ensure an empty van will already be on the premise to load the money in and make their getaway, what could go wrong?

     “Triple Frontier” has a lot of the kind of scenes the “Call of Duty” crowd will love, as our team surgically dismantles the obstacles placed in front of them, easily overwhelming their targets and successfully completing their mission.  But as with any story like this, it is the egos, and in some cases the mental health, of certain members of the team that prove difficult to overcome.  

     The performances by the actors are fine, and the picturesque cinematography delivered by Roman Vasyanov (“End of Watch”) bring forth a real fear that the surroundings these men find themselves in may be the most challenging of their storied military careers.  We are meant to take each of these characters as a sort of stereotype for the situation each of them is in.  In other words, the argument here is all military veterans are coming home and being underutilized, which is true.

     But we are given very little backstory on any of them, which means the audience may not care whether they make it through this ordeal or not, since we really don’t know if anyone will miss them back home.  Or maybe we are meant to believe each of them functions as a loner in civilian society, as they are consistently bogged down with the thought they have seen and experienced the kind of horror few people have, while the enormous contributions they once made for their country are now seemingly ignored.  Kind of like that line in “First Blood” where John Rambo complains to  Colonel Trautman “I used to be in charge of million dollar equipment!”.  Now these guys are left with no other choice than to utilize their skills for themselves, even if they are committing a terrible crime.  GRADE: B-