In the opening moments of Triple Frontier, the latest Netflix film, it’s not the action on screen that might catch your attention—it’s the appearance of two names in the opening credits: Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal. The pair are credited as executive producers, and Boal also co-wrote the script.
There’s an undeniable heft that comes with them, having won multiple Oscars for 2009’s The Hurt Locker (including Bigelow’s achievement of being the first female Best Director winner), following it with the earth-shaking (and much lauded) Zero Dark Thirty in 2012, and then most recently collaborating a third time on 2017’s powerful Detroit. And just like that, Triple Frontier goes from being a ‘Huh, let’s give this new Netflix film a look-see’ and becomes a sit-up-and-take-notice event.
In production since 2010 (Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp were originally attached, in fact), the film went through a handful of cast iterations before finally settling on Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal, and Charlie Hunnam as five former special ops soldiers who plan a rogue solo mission into the Amazon jungle to kill a drug lord and steal his millions. JC Chandor (A Most Violent Year) came on board to direct and polish the script, and here we are.
The easiest comparison is with 1948’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the classic film that examines the aftermath of a people hitting the jackpot—the bad guys end up being the least of their troubles once the infighting and greed kick in. Turns out the near-impossible, death-wish task of stealing the money was the easy part.
Sure enough, the heist itself comes less than halfway into the movie, so clearly the gang isn’t getting away scot-free. Chandor choreographs the robbery with razor-sharp precision, and then Triple Frontier morphs into a high-voltage action film about five guys who now find themselves in the middle of nowhere, relying on everything from mules to helicopters to make their way out… if they can avoid killing each other first, of course.
Set in the Tres Fronteras region where the borders of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru meet (though filmed mostly in Hawaii), the film makes the elements and the geography as much a character as any of our (anti-)heroes. Everything that can go wrong does, and often spectacularly.
Triple Frontier does have its shortcomings, not the least of which is the unfortunate lack of character development and background. While there’s certainly an innate sense that these guys are doing the right thing and that the ends justify the means, it’s hard to completely buy in given that we never get much of a sense of who they are. Heck, we learn more about John Rambo in the opening 15 minutes of First Blood than we do about Isaac’s, Affleck’s, and Hunnam’s characters combined here. That being said, however, all three (plus Hedlund and Pascal) turn in rock-solid performances that drive the film across the finish line.
Triple Frontier succeeds overall—a step above the generic, high-action, testosterone-driven guy flick—and though it may not be in the same metropolitan area (much less ballpark) as The Hurt Locker, Detroit, or Zero Dark Thirty, it’s enough to score yet another win for Boal and Bigelow. Plus (no offense), it may be the first time audiences can be thankful that Tom Hanks didn’t end up staying on board with a project. It’ll take a while to wrap my head around that one.