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Movie review: “Triple Frontier” offers electrifying intrigue and surprising brilliance

Ben Affleck, Pedro Pascal, Charlie Hunnam, and Garrett Hedlund in Triple Frontier. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

The team: five former special ops gone their separate ways reunited for the operation of their lives. The mission: a heist of a drug kingpin’s fortune hidden deep in the South American jungle and guarded by his heavily armed team of narcos. The result: a film fairly typical of its genre, but one that is praiseworthy nonetheless.

The team’s leader, Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), leads his buddies deep into the jungle to take what they feel they are owed after a life of sacrifice for their country. The film has quite the intriguing story of sacrifice, camaraderie and cold hard cash.

“Triple Frontier” features a series of big names, certainly for film buffs. Directed by J.C. Chandor (‘A Most Violent Year,” “All is Lost,” “Margin Call”) and co-written by Chandor and Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), Isaac leads an ensemble cast of Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal and Garrett Hedlund in a film that packs a punch on paper.

After experiencing some of the previous work of the co-writers Boal and Chandor, some audiences may be left wanting more — I felt somewhat similarly — however, the screenplay does “Triple Frontier” justice, pacing a generic film effectively to keep spectators engaged and entertained.

Where most heist thrillers fall flat, the film soars as it creates a compelling story, even though at times it fails to make the greater cultural commentary it either tried to deliver or could have delivered.

Where “Triple Frontier” does falter, however, is with its inclusions of cliches, most notably the team leader sleeping with a vital informant, a series of nicknames (that Hedlund’s character seems to evade for one reason or another) and a feel-good ending that even remotely alert viewers should see coming from a mile away.

But again, despite these shortcomings, “Triple Frontier” is still a heist movie to behold. The film’s saving grace is probably its greater ambitions to heighten its genre and its sense of camaraderie that viewers feel as much a part of as the special ops themselves. This sense of togetherness carries audiences through the heist’s highs — stealing millions from a kingpin — and lows — the obligatory complications that follow the genre’s suit. Guiding viewers into the film, Chandor directs a sense of duty in viewers to stick it out through thick and thin for old times’ sake, for brethren and for loads of cash.

While it overcomes potential difficulties with its story and screenwriting, “Triple Frontier” is beautifully shot. Though its cinematography doesn’t do anything particularly innovative, cinematographer Roman Vasyanov manages to capture the harrowing beauty of the lush and volatile landscape of South America superbly, even if the film was shot in Hawaii.

In the film, after the heist of millions more than the team initially expected, they must escape over the Andes by helicopter to meet a boat that will take them to safety. As the team’s helicopter struggles to traverse the mountains, the film is overcome by a sense of wonder at the impediment to their escape. Saturated by the deep greens of the jungle and the daunting                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            vastness of the Andes, the film plays with natural landscapes as a key part of its storytelling; what else but a mountain range could prove to be the downfall of this skilled unit of ex-militants.

Though its ambitions could have easily faltered, “Triple Frontier” refuses to fail in its mission of entertaining and electrifying viewers through a series of outstandingly choreographed action sequences and real feelings of loss among a group of men that go way back. With an omnipresent sense of camaraderie that further engages viewers and welcomes them into the group of special ops, Chandor cultivates a film that surpasses the majority of a saturated field of recent heist thrillers.

“Triple Frontier” has its ups and downs but it never failed to deliver on what it most promises: the feeling of being one of the guys along for the journey, a journey that is as meaningful to the characters as it is a pleasure to watch.

 

Rating: 4/5

 

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