Netflix's Triple Frontier Review
Writer/director J.C. Chandor reunites with Oscar Isaac for an ensemble thriller with a dark heart and flavours of Sicario and Lone Survivor.Pedigree is important. This was originally a Kathryn Bigelow project, following on from Zero Dark Thirty, reteaming with writer Mark Boal and attracting some big (although possibly inappropriate) stars in Will Smith, Johnny Depp and Tom Hanks. Then writer/director Chandor - who had an impressive debut in Margin Call, and followed it up with Redford's Gravity-at-sea, All is Lost, before doing an atmospheric crime drama with Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year - adopted the project, which was then with Channing Tatum Tom Hardy and man-of-the-moment Mahershala Ali.
When the big studios dropped it, Netflix scored a win by picking it up, keeping Chandor involved and attracting a slightly lower profile but arguably much better suited cast, with Isaac teaming up with no less than former Batman Ben Affleck (who was nearly swapped for Mark Wahlberg - which would have ruined this), Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund.
Chandor has proven himself a master of slow-building tension, as if a storm cloud is brewing on the horizon, but none of the characters can see it until it is too late
Triple Frontier follows a group of former veterans, whose post-War lives have been less than what they expected, that get lured back in for an off-the-books op to stop one of the biggest drug lords in South America, primarily by raiding his jungle fortress, killing him, and stealing all of his money. Whilst it appears simple enough, none of the team anticipate the potential fallout from this going wrong - or even right.
Right from the tense opening setpiece, it's easy to tell that this is a cut above the usual Netflix fare, as Isaac's Agent Santiago 'Pope' Garcia expertly helps the local authorities on a raid gone wrong. A tip off from one of his informants gives him the location of a major target, who is holed up in the jungle with millions in his fortified property. Seeing an opportunity, Pope turns to his old team, including Ben Affleck's former Captain, nicknamed 'Redfly', who reluctantly agrees to help on a scouting mission, soon finding a plan formulating in his mind which may just allow his old team to pull this off.
Chandor has proven himself a master of slow-building immense tension with a creeping, terrifying sense of impending dread, as if a storm cloud is brewing on the horizon, but none of the characters can see it until it is too late. The relatively new director appears capable of bringing a new slant to even familiar genres, here taking what could have otherwise been a relatively straightforward heist thriller and injecting it with an early sense of righteous justice (the notion that the team are putting an end to one of their long term mortal enemies) and then an atypical spiral out of control from the fallout of the seemingly clean - albeit off-the-books - mission which, itself, is delivered with tense precision under a veil of thundering, suffocating, rain.
Utilising bursts of dynamic tactical action, and portending doom, Chandor keeps his team - and the audience - off-balance for the duration
Utilising bursts of dynamic action, and perpetually portending doom, Chandor keeps his team - and the audience - off-balance for the duration, threatening to crack a chasm in his core team when they all respond differently to the cascading threat, spiralling them off on their own personal fights for survival, often at odds with the wishes of the other members - some prepared to go to greater lengths than others to ensure their survival and, sometimes even more importantly, to ensure the survival of the cash.
Isaac is on fine form, and the team have strong camaraderie that gets put to the test, with Tron: Legacy's Garrett Hedlund enjoying one of his better roles, Charlie Hunnam furthering his indie successes, Pedro Pascal a lot more engaged than in Kingsman 2, and Affleck giving his all to arguably the most dynamically interesting of the characters, mainly because he appears to be the most flawed (it's a shame he's no longer Batman, but it would be great if he picks more diverse roles like this). The score is also tremendous (from It Follows composer, Disasterpeace), really adding to the atmosphere of the piece, whilst Dolby Vision is busy working wonders on the visuals too, making the most of the oppressive jungle environment and giving the feature a much broader feel than the usual Netflix fare.
We've seen elements of this story before, from Lone Survivor to Three Kings, but Chandor laces it with that same brutality - and pathos - that Villeneuve nailed in Sicario, and whilst it's not a fully refined end result, it's an impressively tense piece of work nonetheless, and a minor gem for Netflix to promote. Well worth checking out.
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