The premise of “Triple Frontier” (** OUT OF ****), Netflix’s limited theatrical release about retired special-ops who rob a South American drug trafficker, sounded promising.  “All is Lost” director J.C. Chandor and Oscar-winning “Hurt Locker” scenarist Mark Boal focus on a team of sympathetic, hard-luck, military types who should appeal to any red-blooded connoisseur of American action cinema. Furthermore, these heroes see this mission as their chance to start over.  Despite their faithful military service to Uncle Sam, they received neither proper recognition nor sufficient compensation.

Now, they embark on a campaign to plunder millions in blood money from a notorious narcotics honcho. Everything boils down to black and white simplicity. Our heroes are cut from the same clichés as Sylvester Stallone’s far more seasoned cronies in the “The Expendables” trilogy, and they do come loaded for bear.  Nevertheless, these guys behave like amateurs, compounding one mistake after another, and undermining their own best efforts. Since the good guys must be sympathetic, the villains must be repugnant.  Cartel drug traffickers qualify as ideal heavies.  Reviled in real life as much as on the screen, they kill without a qualm and hold nothing sacred.

They deserve to die a thousand times. Our heroes should be virtuously white, while the villains should be shady as sin.  Comparably, James Brolin led a group of amateurs on a similar mission in “High Risk” (1981), but everybody survived with their loot intact for a triumphant finale. “Triple Frontier” had potential, but it wastes its powerhouse cast (Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal) in a hackneyed hokum about the malevolence of greed.

Like we don’t know the corrosive nature of greed.  Presumably, Chandor and Boal must have cut their teeth on the Humphrey Bogart classic “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948) because “Triple Frontier” contains a similar storyline. Unfortunately, this escapist oriented, testosterone-laden tale turns sour in Chandor and Boal’s hands.  Imagine what “The Expendables” might have been if they lost, and you may pass up watching “Triple Frontier.”

Technically, “Triple Frontier” is a crime movie instead of an adventure epic.  Our heroes initiate a home invasion and loot a wealthy cartel mobster’s premises.  Initially, they search without success for his safe, until it dawns on them the house is the safe!  Meantime, since the villain lives beyond the law, he cannot blow the whistle on them without running the risk of the authorities intervening.  Greed enters the picture, and our heroes take too many duffels of loot.

Until the 1970s, Hollywood maintained a strict censorship policy that crooks never delight in their ill-gotten gains.  This policy was part of a larger rule Hollywood struggled to enforce: Crime must not pay!  When the Clint Eastwood & Jeff Bridges heist caper “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot” (1974) came out, the studios gave these criminals greater flexibility, but not without the usual life and death consequences.

In “Triple Frontier,” we are rooting for our heroes to haul off millions when we realize they’ve completely lost their minds.  Poor planning sabotages their heist.  Indeed, they pull off the robbery, but pulling off the getaway is something else.  Stallone and his “Expendables” cohorts would have gotten clean away, but these loose cannons must pay the piper. “Triple Frontier” takes a tragic turn around its  90-minute mark, and you have to ponder whether you want to shed a tear for this band of clowns-in-camouflage.

Naturally, The character with the greatest amount to lose inevitably gets it.  This kind of old-fashioned morality takes the joy out of what could have been an audacious adventure epic. During the getaway section, our heroes behave like trigger-happy amateurs.  They find themselves against odds even more incredible than those of the cartel.  Primarily, they find themselves at the mercy of the local population.

The getaway occurs in sprawling, spectacular, mountainous scenery, with Hawaii standing in splendidly for Brazil.  Our heroes exfiltrate in a wobbly helicopter with their ill-gotten gains dangling beneath it in a cargo net. Foolishly, they have loaded more than the chopper can accommodate and fly over the Andes Mountains.  They disintegrate into their own worst enemy.

“Triple Frontier” gets off to a promising start as Chandor and Boal introduce the heroes and their particular predicament that has prompted them to commit a crime.  The chief protagonist is Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia (Oscar Isaac of “A Most Violent Year”), and he is a private military contractor who coordinates drug busts with the local authorities.  Pope has a confidential informant, Yovanna (Adria Arjona of “Pacific Rim: Uprising”), and she knows the whereabouts of the local drug trafficker.

She also knows that he has concealed millions in his walls.  She provides Pope with everything he needs to know about this despicably murderous narco.  Pope enlists four of his old service buddies and outlines a scenario that each of them could tote off duffels stuffed with multi-millions in cash.  Eventually, Pope consults Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis (Ben Affleck of “The Town”) and asks him to draft a combat plan.

Reluctantly, Davis designs a scheme with a timetable.  Pope persuades a pilot, Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales (Pedro Pascal of “The Equalizer 2”), to fly them across the Andes to a ship on the coast. After Davis agrees to accompany them, William ‘Ironhead’ Miller (Charlie Hunnam of “King Arthur”) signs on, and his little brother, MMA fighter Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund of “TRON: Legacy”), joins them.  Afterward, everything goes sideways.  Greed overrides good sense, and one of the five takes a fatal bullet in the head.  “Triple Frontier” never recovers from the tragic death of this character.

In part, he brought it on himself. At this point, our heroes whine like knuckle-heads who bit off more than they could chew and are choking on their own greed.  The performances are uniformly robust, but the filmmakers have given each actor little to work with to make their respective characters memorable, for example, like “The Magnificent Seven.” If you’re hoping for thrills and chills, “Triple Frontier” provides few. Check out more of your favorite movie reviews here:

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