JC Chandor’s rogue-military actioner is dull as
dishwater, and wastes its cast of rugged movie stars.
Back in 2014, a little nihilistic action flic called Sabotage premiered to little fanfare. Part of the Schwarzenegger post-Gubernatorial comeback, it featured an odd and very unsatisfying twist on the soldiers-steal-to-get-rich trope: all the characters were irredeemably unlikable. Now, that’s not to say that a character has to be liked, but it is very hard to care about the fate of a mercenary crew when you don’t like any of them to begin with. It was a weird choice then, and it’s still a weird choice now in Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) and J.C. Chandor’s (Margin Call) newest film, Triple Frontier.
Three years after leaving work as a special ops soldier behind, Santiago Garcia (Oscar Isaac) has been tracking down a notorious Brazilian drug lord. After discovering his home deep in the Amazonian jungle, Garcia returns to America to enlist the help of his old friends, most notably William Miller (Charlie Hunnam) and Tom Davis (Ben Affleck). With the promise of millions of dollars ripe for the taking, the five agree on a plan to steal as much as they can and kill off the drug kingpin.
What makes Triple Frontier so difficult to get through are the squad of two-dimensional characters that we’re supposed to honor and adore. They’re tough. They’re manly. They make locker room jokes. But they also feel bad for the things they do. At least, they say they do. And Affleck sure looks sad about some of his choices. Some have anonymous families. One even has a new nameless off-screen baby! Aside from these generic, unremarkable character traits, our squadron of rogue former soldiers don’t offer much else to compel us cheer them on. Even when the inevitable first death hits, its registers more of a plot shock than a genuinely sad moment for a character.
It really is a shame, given the hell of an ensemble they’ve picked to fill these empty roles. Affleck, Isaac, and Pedro Pascal give performances that hover around above average. Much of the direction feels as though they were told to just remain quiet, stoic, and manly for as long as possible. Even when the little bits of emotion start to seep through, it is quelled well before anything meaningful can be felt. Garrett Hedlund absolutely takes his one moment to stray from that monotone performance and gives the film its best minute of acting. From past performances it is very clear that these men are capable of a range of emotion and depth, but this movie showcases that an actor can only give so much with stale dialogue and stock warrior roles.
After setting a pretty high bar, Chandor seems more than content to just walk underneath it for the next two hours.
The uninspiring turns continue with Chandor’s lifeless direction. There are seldom any moments that rise above entry-level filmmaking. Even worse, for an action film, the fights that do crop up are thoroughly dull. Since our quintuple of soldiers can’t be seen as anything other than hardcore weapons of precision, most firefights are done within seconds and feature no tension whatsoever. The opening fire fight of the film is about as good as the battles get. After setting a pretty high bar, Chandor seems more than content to just walk underneath it for the next two hours.
The film is also sprinkled with the sorts of songs you would find in a compilation of Vietnam War films. You got your Run Through the Jungle. Your Masters of War. Most of the time it felt like “All Along the Watchtower” was right around the corner of any scene. It feels more like the location was merely switched from Vietnam to Brazil after an executive note on an old script, but all the old music cues were left in. Despite this, the music was the one place where there was the most potential for subversion of expectations, as Disasterpeace (It Follows) was behind the design of the original score. His previous scores have shown a great skill at subtlety and unique choices of tone, but all of that is forsaken for what amounts to a very archetypal war-movie score. Not only that, but his services were used so rarely that pure silence more than likely has more screen time than his original works.
Triple Frontier is one of those films that becomes more of a bummer the more you think about it. Not because of anything that happened in the story, but because of the sheer volume of genuine talent that went into this product only to produce a very below average film. Here’s hoping that Boal and Chandor’s next film makes better use of the talent around them.