Triple Frontier is the latest in a long line of Dirty Dozen-style action movies that see a team of badasses recruited and sent on a wild mission. From Kelly's Heroes to Predator to Ocean's Eleven to The Avengers, it's something that always works in movies. (MacGruber may have done it best: Recruit the team and explode everyone in a van by mistake.) And it works for the same reason all-star teams work in sports — people want to see the best. Triple Frontier revolves around a group of discharged Army Rangers who use their considerable skills to execute a heist. You'll recognize and love the set up. The resolution, on the other hand, veers frustratingly into the absurd.
Directed and co-written by J.C. Chandor, Triple Frontier is in the hands of a thoughtful filmmaker who's never done a movie like this. He's done a whipsmart Wall Street action movie (Margin Call). And his last two films (All Is Lost, A Most Violent Year) are glacially paced, but definitely worthwhile. Triple Frontier is fast-paced, frantic, and tactical. The script's military acumen comes from co-writer Mark Boal, who won Oscars for The Hurt Locker and was nominated for Zero Dark Thirty.
Triple Frontier begins with a familiar, but compelling, first act. Pope Garcia (Oscar Isaac) is a private military adviser in his home country of Colombia. Fed up with the drugs and violence destroying everything, Pope enlists an informant (Adria Arjona) to detail the whereabouts of the country's drug kingpin (and his cash) with a promise of a free ticket anywhere else. Pope then recruits the old gang with another promise — a huge payday. Motivational speaker Ironhead (Charlie Hunnam), real estate salesman Redfly (Ben Affleck), MMA fighter Benny (Garrett Hedlund), and the pilot, Catfish (Pedro Pascal), all get down, some more reluctantly than others.
Chandor easily builds urgency by laying out the facts. This is Pope's plan, but Redfly handles the logistics and Affleck takes charge. The actor is at his best as the center of attention, breaking it down. The boys will be on their own in hostile territory, no support, no Medevac, and they'll never be able to return to their lives. "You guys are desecrating most of the oaths you ever took." These Army heroes are about to become criminals and very rich.
As the heist unfolds and things go increasingly haywire, the film's morality comes into play. There's no going back. However, how the tale unfolds leaves much to be desired. Triple Frontier hits a wall as the heist draws out and the team is forced to improvise. Despite all their preparation, there's no contingency plan and the movie seems to improvise as well. Most of the final act involves creative ways of transporting duffel bags (what hell this must have been for the actors), and a donkey is needlessly killed in a moment of abject what-the-fuckery.
Triple Frontier's main problem is it has no villain. It's an existential action film about reaping what you sow. Movies like this aren't supposed to be so thought-provoking — not in America anyway. They're supposed to be black and white, good versus evil, recruit the badasses and watch them run roughshod over everyone. Triple Frontier sets it up like that, and then pulls the rug out from underneath. It's trying to elevate the genre, and it's appreciated. It's also not very fun.