Netflix’s Action-Thriller ‘Triple Frontier’ Works as Intended
A still from <i>Triple Frontier</i>.
A still from Triple Frontier.(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

Netflix’s Action-Thriller ‘Triple Frontier’ Works as Intended

If you’re looking for harmless entertainment look no further – Triple Frontier checks all the boxes of implausible plotting, a horde of recognisable cast members, big action and exotic locales.

The premise is simple – an American military honcho (Oscar Isaac) stationed in Brazil stumbles across an opportunity to score a big hidden bounty from a prominent local gangster, so he reconnects with his military pals back home (Ben Affleck, Pedro Pascal, Garett Hedlund, Charlie Hunnam) to execute the mission. Things, of course, don’t go according to plan and the pack of mercenaries face an uphill task in getting their loot back home.

The writer Mark Boal, and the director JC Chandor who made a film about the economic recession and then a crime drama, may be taking their cues from the work of Boal’s frequent collaborator Kathryn Bigelow, but no one can say that they haven’t beautifully mapped out their turf as bingey Netflix content.

The movie works as intended – fast paced, without any challenging thought-provoking moments that make you strain, and a military backdrop to keep things constantly slick-looking. It does contain all the military movie clichés like cool nicknames for the heroes, and backstories written for particular characters only for the sake of making it matter when something bad happens to them, as well as the standard issue soundtrack blasting during the helicopter scenes.

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It’s all intended to be familiar, but at the same time some things are different. In most American military movies the varying conflicts between the soldiers are shaped by self interest.

The central conflict in Triple Frontier is more literal, in that it shows what each character actually sees, not what he wants to see. And seen primarily from the eyes of Isaac’s ‘leader’ character we get a little closer to comprehension of the entire heist that these guys planned, the ease of which may seem like a cheap cinematic trick at first but then becomes suddenly interesting when our heroes bite off more than they can chew.

No one is judged here even though some of our heroes decide to cash in on an opportunity, and the film shifts to an impersonal view to dive into the most conventional possible but fun action movie tropes. And like so many thrillers this one too ends in a car chase.

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It’s not high art by any stretch but it sure is entertaining, particularly in the second half when the gang is relegated to wading through the jungle and the mountains with their payload. And the hurtling force of a shoal of recognisable actors bouncing off each other is always enjoyable to watch, which brings to attention the very necessity of big names in a film like this one.

A fun story isn’t enough because there’s more than that at stake, even in the mystic lands of Netflix algorithms. Like ancient philosophers we may strive to grasp the balance between casting huge names like Affleck and Isaac to bridge the gap between art and commerce.

It is a curious necessity considering the streaming platform does command excellent military shows like Fauda which has a bunch of unknowns and yet is a tremendously well-made and successful show.

We’ve seen these characters before in countless American movies, and because these guys are so likable in other movies we tend to overlook the clichés. As required the ‘military brahs’ inject some small human touches into the action—Affleck’s vulnerability, Hedlund’s frowning determination, Isaac’s natural empathy, Hunnam’s self-amusement mixed with patriotism.

The Affleck character is given special treatment not just because he’s the biggest name but also because of what his arc ultimately becomes, even though it’s seeped in laughable simplicity.

Pascal’s pilot guy bloke is perhaps too bland to make a difference; those who loved him in Netflix’s Narcos would find themselves scratching their heads because his performance itself is tentative and physically inert. While Isaac’s over the top good guy-ness is built probably to reinforce the notion that any display of morally gray tendencies would turn his character into an unlikable one, a misconception that is curious from writer Boal who used to be a journalist. Adria Arjona, another Narcos import does well as a key to initiating the mission, although her character frustratingly disappears midway into the film.

What ultimately matters is that it all works as a passably fun diversion; this is director Chandor’s first foray into action and for the most part the film races past its material even though it never quite transcends it.

For Netflix it’s also a big step up in quality from last year’s War Machine.

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