Seemingly overnight, Netflix has become the one-stop big-box superstore of streaming services. You may not always find exactly what you’re looking for there, and what you do find may not always fit perfectly, but you’re destined to walk away with something in your shopping cart. This something-for-everyone philosophy has come to include everything from prestige, high-brow art films (Roma) to charming teen rom-coms (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) to twee Anglophile dramas for the sewing-circle set (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society). But what about the macho dads out there looking for a quick hit of rah-rah action fodder? Well, now Netflix has them covered too, thanks to the star-studded new Three Kings-meets-Treasure of the Sierra Madre special-ops heist flick, Triple Frontier.
Slated for a brief one-week run in theaters before popping up on Netflix’s increasingly overwhelming, Cheesecake Factory-sized menu, Triple Frontier is the kind of rollicking, red-meat military adventure Hollywood hasn’t had a whole lot of interest in since the ‘60s/‘70s heyday of The Wild Geese, Dark of the Sun, and The Professionals — you know, throwback action spectacles set in exotic foreign locales populated by sunburned mercenaries soaked in rum, sweat, testosterone, and moral ambiguity. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss them a little. And apparently, J.C. Chandor did, too.
Chandor, who’s probably best known for directing Robert Redford in the existential high-seas one-man-show All Is Lost, doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice for a camo-clad dude-movie about a group of former elite soldiers reuniting to rob a South American drug baron. But with the addition of co-writer Mark Boal and executive producer Kathryn Bigelow (the team behind Zero Dark Thirty), it begins to come into clearer focus. What matters, though, isn’t so much past proof-of-concept credits as whether or not the movie works. And despite a few minor hiccups, it mostly does by keeping things drum-tight and white knuckle-tense until its fizzle of an ending.
Oscar Isaac, reuniting with Chandor after 2014’s excellent A Most Violent Year, heads up the film’s group of alpha males as Santiago. When the movie opens, he’s working as an off-the-books advisor to an unnamed South American country’s brutal police force as they fight the no-win war on drugs. Through that assignment, he cozies up to a female informant named Yovanna (Pacific Rim: Uprising’s Adria Arjona) who’s working for the cartel’s kingpin and learns that his off-the-grid lair is basically a jungle Fort Knox. So he decides to get his old team back together to go in there Predator-style to get what he believes is rightfully theirs after thanklessly non-lucrative careers in the armed forces.
With a few brief qualms, his old pals are up for it. And why wouldn’t they be? After all, Ben Affleck’s master planner Tom is a divorced dad finding it hard to provide for his family as a not-very-good real estate agent, Pedro Pascal’s helicopter pilot Francisco is grounded after a run-in with the law, Charlie Hunnam’s William has been reduced to giving canned speeches he doesn’t quite believe in to rookie soldiers, and Garrett Hedlund’s Ben is now getting his face pummeled in the mixed-martial arts octagon. They all could use the money. But more than that, they need the adrenalin and sense of brotherhood again.
Chandor films their mission and its male-bonding lead-up using the Peter Berg playbook — you know, lots of backslapping peppered with military jargon. But Triple Frontier isn’t as cheesy and embarrassingly jingoistic as Berg’s films. It’s more ethically murky, especially when the haul they find at the kingpin’s compound turns out to be much, much bigger than they expected. Greed kicks in and their better judgment goes out the window. To say more about how their plan goes FUBAR — and you know from the get-go that it will — would constitute a spoiler. Suffice it to say that Chandor, Boal, and their gruff band of he-men never let things slacken. There may be no honor among thieves, but Triple Frontier certainly makes watching them pretty entertaining. B