Empty Balcony: Triple Frontier

Netflix is in a battle with the Hollywood establishment. Hollywood patting itself on the back, in the form of endless awards shows in the winter, is more than just a glad-handing circle jerk. There is a lot of money at stake. Hollywood is a business, and the rules the establishment sets aren’t meant to maintain artistic integrity or anything else so noble. They are meant to protect the interests of the established players. The arcane rules of Hollywood state that a movie isn’t eligible for an award if it premiered in any other place than a movie theater. Should a movie premiere on something as ephemeral as the internet, it’s not a movie, apparently. That’s silly and stupid, and it’s only a matter of time before the powers that be are forced to reverse that decision. But the legitimacy of the movie theater is why Netflix, distributors of Triple Frontier, gave it a limited release in theaters before throwing it into their online catalogue. It doesn’t matter, though. If this flick gets nominated for any awards I’ll be shocked.

Released this very month, Triple Frontier was directed by J.C. Chandor from a script by Chandor and Mark Boal. Boal came up with the idea for the film, and worked with Kathryn Bigelow to make the project happen. But, that was many years ago. This flick had been stuck in development hell for over a decade, with Bigelow, Tom Hanks, Channing Tatum, Johnny Depp, Tom Hardy, and many others linked to the project at various times. Whatever lofty ambitions there were for the film evaporated as the years went by, and what viewers are left with is a mean-spirited flick with a cast whose names outweigh their talent.

Oscar Isaac stars as Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia. He’s a former U.S. Special Forces operator who is now an advisor/private security contractor to an unnamed South American country. He accompanies local police and army forces in the never-ending war on drugs. His main target is the evil Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos), an elusive Narco who has turned a jungle mansion into a warehouse for all his dough.

Santiago is burnt out after years of chasing down bad guys for the U.S., with little to show for it. A clause in his latest contract states that when drug money is seized in a bust, he and his team get 20%. Santiago thinks Lorea has somewhere around 76 million bucks at his house, so Santiago flies back to the states to recruit some of his old army colleagues to scout out the house and then join the locals on the raid.

The team he assembles are brothers Ben and William ‘Ironhead’ Miller (Garrett Hedlund and Charlie Hunnam), Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales (a very rough-looking Pedro Pascal), and Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis (Ben Affleck). Redfly was the man back when they were all in the army. The team all respect and defer to him. He’s also the guy who’s having the most trouble in his civilian life.

The tropes come hard and fast when it comes to Redfly. After leaving the army, he became a security contractor (the morality surrounding our most highly-trained veterans becoming mercenaries is an article for another day), but he also suffered from burnout and now spends his days being bad at selling real estate. Oh, and he’s divorced, with alimony and child support piling up. It doesn’t take much convincing for Redfly to join the team.

The plan is for them to fly down to South America, infiltrate the jungle without raising alarms, and scout the compound for the locals. Then they will join the raid and reap the rewards. But Santiago is a lying sack of shit. He never had any intention of involving the locals. He wants the team to keep all the money. To top it off, he wants Lorea dead. What Santiago is proposing is murder and robbery, no matter who the target is, and the team barely hesitates to agree. This is when the film starts getting dark, and it never lets up.

They raid the house, things go badly, as they always do in heist films, and the remainder of the film (stretching over half its 125-minute running time) follows the team as they try and flee the country to safety.

This is a slog of a flick, and that has to do with it being a story of unlikable people doing awful things. There are no heroes in this flick. There are characters who used to have integrity, and who have been ruined by the realities of war, but it’s just about impossible to develop any sympathy for these men. The enthusiasm with which they become murderers means there’s no one to root for. Perhaps the reason this movie was stuck in development hell for so long is that Mr. Boal wrote a script full of people no one wants to spend any time with.

And then there’s the cast. Isaac was fine. In fact, he acted circles around everyone. Hedlund was the most decent of the rest, but Pascal looked like he couldn’t wait to get out of there, and Hunnam’s accent slipped quite a lot. And then there was Ben Affleck. After 20 years in the business, range is still beyond him, as is inflection. He mumbles his way through this movie, just like every other flick he’s been in. His performance is so strained and unnatural that he couldn’t even play a believable corpse. Spoiler alert? I don’t care.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it is a hateful one. I would have been just fine if, at the ending, every one of these bad men were killed. They didn’t deserve any better than the people they slaughtered.

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