Skip to main content

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Chandor’s previous work (Margin Call and A Most Violent Year), even if I’d be hard-pressed to reach an opinion on what sort of filmmaker he is (a competent one, I guess), and he’s co-credited on the screenplay with the project’s originator Mark Boal, but there’s something faintly underwhelming about every aspect of Triple Frontier, even granted the evident polish of the production. Boal, a former journalist, is best known for his studies of the military machine (In the Valley of Elah, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), ones which leave one with a sense that he’s overly respectful of the edifice while being sure to pluck plaudits for threading in nominal critiques (Elah is by some distance the best of the three, and I wonder how much of that wasn’t Paul Haggis’ input).

So it is here. There have been references to Triple Frontier operating along the lines of Three Kings meets The Treasure of the Sierre Madre, but there’s none of the former’s irreverence or the latter’s escalating insanity and paranoia to exert a hold on the viewer. Indeed, this is fairly standard-issue “mercenaries on a mission” fare, even extending to the opportunity to both do something noble (topple Colombian drug lord Lorea) and slightly less so (steal his loot into the bargain, but hey, the authorities there are hopelessly corrupt, so if you want to get the job done and there’s a little extra loot involved, to the tune of $250m, that’s all gravy).

In his first scene, Charlie Hunnam’s motivational speaker is giving troops a lecture about “the price of being a warrior”, evidence enough of how this will unfold tonally: dour veterans’ inability to adjust to civilian life, wracked with guilt over misdeeds done, and looking forward to getting back into the stylishly rendered, explosive action as a cathartic recourse (“We’re a dying breed. We were warriors”).

This rather hollow reading is further emphasised by the casting, a quintet of pampered Hollywood types donning their best hard-man war faces. Oscar Isaac, who worked previously with Chandor on A Most Violent Year, plays Pope, the instigator of the mission. He’s fine, but I do wonder where Isaac’s career is heading, in the same way that Andy Garcia started out with so much promise and then just became “fine”, and we forgot all the “next Pacino” talk. Pedro Pascal barely registers, while Garret Hedlund (as Hunnam’s brother) stands out only for looking more like a stoned surfer than a battle-weary vet (we’re also asked to believe he’s taken up a career as a mixed marital artist, so there are several serious stretches there).

Hunnam’s the conscience of the group, at least to an extent, as the quintet seem to assume positions according to the dictates of the scene, not having been fleshed out in sufficiently differentiated fashion at the outset. Beefy Batfleck has the most to chew on, in theory, as the real estate salesman unleashed in batty Bogart fashion when he gets a whiff of the loot, but sadly, one gets the impression this element was rather reined in somewhere along the way. He gets greedy, sure, but his perfectionist planner is quicky regretful for how his actions lead to their coming unstuck (“I killed those people” he professes, after a village massacre. “No you didn’t. We all did” comes back surfer martial artist dude, who later recklessly burns a load of money, KLF style, but with the excuse of wanting to keep warm. A donkey also goes over a cliff, though not as a result of mixed martial arts action, which is more affecting than any human casualties).

Indeed, there’s a sense of pulled punches throughout, that the material might have been on course for more all-out existential crisis territory, pitting former colleague against former colleague amidst the unforgiving elements. The sort of thing where Liam Neeson has to square off against a pack of hungry wolves after his fellow survivors are whittled down. Instead, it’s only Batfleck who comes a cropper, and in the last scene, helpful Hunnam even presents Isaac with the co-ordinates of the ravine they dropped their loot down (to be revisited when and if Netflix asks for Quadruple Frontier). The only discernible price paid is nobly giving up their shares of the meagre sum they escaped with to Batfleck’s family trust fund. Boam and Chandor make vague gestures towards the paraphernalia of modern warfare and irrevocably damaged psyches, but so glibly that most of the proceedings wouldn’t look out of place in a forty-year-old Christopher Walken movie made from a Frederick Forsyth novel.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

I want to see what love looks like when it’s triumphant. I haven’t had a good laugh in a week.

It Happened One Night (1934)
(SPOILERS) In any romantic comedy worth its salt, you need to be rooting for both leads to end up together. That’s why, while each has its individual pleasures – and one is an unchallenged classic in every other department – the triptych of Andie McDowell ‘90s romcoms (Green Card, Groundhog Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral) fail on that score; she doesn’t elicit any degree of investment (ironically, she’s much better as a knockabout nun doing a dolphin impression in Hudson Hawk). Even Hanks and Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle are merely likeable; you can’t get that caught up if there aren’t any sparks flying (Crystal and Ryan, though). It Happened One Night has sparks in spades, the back and forth between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert ensuring it’s as vital and versatile today as it was 85 years ago.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.