Filmmaker J.C. Chandor is at his best making intimate, dialogue-heavy films about man’s unrelenting quest for the almighty dollar at any price.
His 2011 debut “Margin Call” was an intense, diabolical examination of the New York financial services industry that earned him an Oscar nomination for the film’s screenplay.
Three years later, Chandor returned with “A Most Violent Year,” a subtle and nuanced crime drama about the morally ambiguous world of a heating oil company CEO’s quest for the American dream.
In his first collaboration with streaming service giant Netflix, Chandor’s “Triple Frontier” presents as a familiar heist film with retired military veterans attempting to rob a Brazilian drug lord.
But Chandor’s films are never so simple.
“Triple Frontier” examines what makes a soldier once there’s nothing left to fight for and is a somber, introspective film aside from all the gunfire and chase scenes.
It’s a brutal, uncompromising look at what happens when a team of elite soldiers assemble on a dangerous mission for self instead of country.
In “Triple Frontier,” former Special Forces operative Santiago Garcia learns of a hidden fortress of cash in the Brazilian jungle while working for the Colombian government hunting down cocaine dealers.
With the aid of his reluctant, retired team, Garcia aims to seize millions and take out the region’s deadliest villain.
Technically profound, yet dense thematically, it’s the kind of film that requires a concentrating, engaged audience with their finger off the stop button, which is a harder sell on Netflix than at a crowded movie theater.
Key to the overall success of the film is the terrific ensemble cast led by Oscar Isaac as Garcia, whose deliberate performance as the team’s driving force paced the entire film.
Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal overcome thinly conceived character archetypes – the pilot with a drug problem, the gunner with a crazy streak, the dutiful straight arrow – and create genuine chemistry among the five leads which carry “Triple Frontier” through its more languishing moments.
Meanwhile, Ben Affleck gives one of the better turns of his career as Tom Davis, the former team captain emotionally wrecked by retirement, which drove him away from his family. There’s a sincere emptiness to his performance that reflects a sense of deep, profound loss of purpose in post-service veterans.
Chandor and Affleck carefully build Davis’ mental stability fracturing as the mission develops and the money grows closer in hand.
Affleck does a tremendous job giving Davis a sense of composure in spite of the increasingly frantic nature of the film’s events and Davis’ evolution over the course of “Triple Frontier” is perhaps the only true character development in the film, which may or may not be intentional on Chandor’s part.
“Triple Frontier” is the first Chandor film he did not write alone, helping to pen the screenplay with “Zero Dark Thirty” scribe Mark Boal.
The lack of a complete singular vision does manifest in the somewhat muddled tone of the film, which often skirts character backstory or development for larger general themes like the self worth of military veterans retired from the service or the cost of relentlessly pursuing money.
Like his other works, “Triple Frontier” can be a grind to get through on an initial viewing because Chandor packs so much into the subtext of his characters.
There’s some smart musical cues in “Triple Frontier” with a familiar and eclectic soundtrack as well as the best possible cinematic use for Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” as a character device.
On the whole, “Triple Frontier” is a film that deserves multiple viewings to understand the nuance Chandor sews under the surface so that audiences can come down from the shine of the fast-paced action-heist-thriller they were expecting to get for two hours.
While not quite on par with “A Most Violent Year,” “Triple Frontier” continues Chandor’s strong filmography and is well worth taking a chance on during the next Netflix surfing.