Triple Frontier begins, and ultimately prefaces itself, with a retired special ops fighter addressing an audience of attentive, soon-to-be discharged members of the United States armed services. Captain William Miller (Charlie Hunnam) stands sturdy and poised, his golf shirt tucked neatly into his Wranglers, speaking bluntly about his experience returning from combat, detailing the harsh reality of reintegration. Even as Hunnam struggles to keep up a convincing American accent, his words carry weight.
He goes on about the innate biological effects that come with committing and witnessing acts of violence before we cut to a helicopter carrying a special police force into a village in Colombia where, as expected, we bear witness to more bloodshed: Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), a graying American military contractor and friend of Miller, leads a team of local forces against a drug cartel.
Intel from the mission reveals the location of the cartel kingpin, Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos), deep in the jungle near the tri-border of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. Following suit, Garcia assembles a gang of ex-special forces fighters to take him out and plunder his fortune. Along with Miller, the motivational speaker, there’s his brother, Ben (Garrett Hedlund), an MMA fighter; Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Pedro Pascal), a former pilot; and Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck), a real estate agent and single father struggling to support his daughter.
Reunited after years of living their own lives, these brawny Avengers of private security contracting catch up and bro-out, drinking PBR and listening to dad rock (expect selections from Fleetwood Mac, Metallica, and Creedence Clearwater Revival), all while recalling the glory days in the armed services and the dissatisfaction with domestic life that followed. The risk involved with undertaking such a ludicrously dangerous mission proves irrelevant in the end, as the promise of wealth and the chance to catch an adrenaline high are convincing enough. Shortly after, they’re in the Amazon rainforest staking out Lorea’s compound, deciding when to strike.
Triple Frontier begins like a Peter Berg movie, in the vein of a Lone Survivor or Mile 22, concerned with vaguely jingoistic notions of heroism, masculinity, and armed service exceptionalism. This seems to be the case until the raid takes place, which goes sideways and sends the narrative into a welcome frenzy as the story shifts gears and becomes something of a morality fable—a take on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre—that reveals the greed and arrogance of these characters. It shouldn’t take a character criticizing these sorts of unquestionably illegal foreign interventions for us to draw a line between the attitudes of these former soldiers and the outlook of 21st century U.S. foreign policy, but nonetheless, it’s nice to see the film, through the natural progression of its narrative, navigate this murky territory. In the end, it’s this self-interrogation—juggling genuine sympathy and harsh criticism of its characters—that places the film more closely in line with Clint Eastwood’s recent work.
The film is directed by J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, Margin Call), but more tellingly, it was written by Mark Boal, a journalist and screenwriter known for his work with Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker). Most, if not all, of Boal’s creative projects and journalistic work deal with the slippery relationship between boots-on-the-ground armed service fighters and the greater military industrial complex—how the system can shape ideology, which can seep back into the fabric of life at home. Tragedy in Boal’s work, Triple Frontier included, comes from his sympathy for these flawed characters sucked into and spit out by the system. When Tom considers passing on the mission early in the film, Santiago prods him: “You’ve been shot five times for your country and you can’t even afford a new truck.”These ideas have been handled more eloquently in other films (even others written by Boal), but it’s the genre trappings and the loony tilt into absurdity that keep Triple Frontier interesting throughout. There’s a good deal of fun to be had here, and Chandor, with some slick, economic direction of action, keeps everything together for much of the runtime.
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