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

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.