Yeah, I'm doing another Netflix movie. They should sponsor me.
Considering the volume they're putting out in the action genre, though, can you blame me? Even if they're not all entirely organic to Netflix, they're really cataloging themselves a library of rootin' tootin' gun shootin' flicks that is going to make the revolving library at any major movie channel seem paltry.
Triple Frontier was originally going to be a Paramount Pictures film. Johnny Depp and even Tom Hanks were in talks about playing roles in the film at some point. Mark Boal had a long series of setbacks, losing people in both 2015 and 2017 to other projects. Kathryn Bigelow was going to direct but jumped ship to work on her Bowe Berghdal project, and scheduling conflicts made bigtime star Will Smith drop out of the potential lead role. They eventually get J.C. Chandor to direct, and they even signed Mahershala Ali, Tom Hardy, and Channing Tatum! Damn, big names, right? Then in mid April 2017, right before shooting starts, Paramount drops the film like a hot potato.
It didn't take Netflix long to scoop it up and put it on a plate with butter and bacon bits, though. May first, just over two weeks later, they enter negotiations for the movie. The production star power of Ben and Casey Affleck aiding in securing that certainly helped.
Together they assembled a pretty bangin' cast, got shooting locations set in Hawaii, and started finally, finally, making this film.
It's impossible to talk about this movie without talking about cast. Ben Affleck plays Captain Tom "Redfly" Davis. He's the leader of this outfit, and no one challenges that. In fact, one of the character's involvement in the operation hinges on his participation. Ben does a great job in this. I have an idea of who Ben is in my head and the movies he's involved with, but this definitely poked big ol' holes in my preconceptions. I simply didn't expect to see this from a Netflix movie, but he nails the troubled, grizzled veteran role very well without dipping his toes into the waters of trope-dom.
The fact that his was going to be a big budget script before going to a streaming service certainly helps. Mark Boal writes for several very strong characters in this, and that's a damn tough balancing act to pull off in a movie. Of course, he's not new to this sort of thing. He's the pen behind the Hurt Locker (a movie that, personally, I find fucking ridiculous. But it did do the cereal aisle scene right) and Zero Dark Thirty (a movie that, personally, I find fucking stellar. A must-watch). What helps with all these big name actors is that they are given such rich tools to work with. The script has real depth, and the dialogue is authentic. You've got all these big names playing big roles, but you can tell they had the freedom within the written material to really wallow into these roles.
Then, playing Santiago, you have Oscar Isaac. You'll know him as Poe from the newest Star Wars films. He plays the guy to puts this whole plan together initially. He's competent, he's got his ideals, but the situation has turned his set of values into something more brazen, yet ultimately the same. He wants to make a difference, but he may need to take a darker avenue than he first considered when he moved to South America. The conversations he has with his former teammates during the stages of the movie where he's convincing them to join the operation are my favorite from him. He speaks so naturally, like a ton of military guys I knew. The casual nature with which he playfully jabs at his friends, then flips the switch once they reach the heart of a matter... yeah. That's how those talks often go. I'm unsure if he's had experience speaking at length with vets, but I'm very willing to believe he has.
Charlie Hunnam, famous for Sons of Anarchy, seems like he's got a smaller role in comparison to Ben and Oscar, but he's sort of the vehicle for the viewer to understand what's going on. In the same way we need Nick Carraway to view Gatsby so we can truly see his nature, we need Charlie's character "Ironhead" to view the others to understand the real-time changes in morality they're undergoing.
Garret Hedlund is a guy I haven't seen a lot from. To show you how long, my first thought was "whoa is that the guy from Troy?" And he is, but that's a 2004 movie. Man, I need to fill some gaps in movie knowledge I have. You'll know Pedro Pascal as the fancy sword singer of the house Martell in Game of Thrones, and Adria Arjona from Pacific Rim. That's a lot of talent. And ask mentioned, they're really given the space to do their thing due to the sheet quality of...
Brevity is the soul of wit and Mark find a way to pack a LOT into just a few lines and moments.
The movie starts with Santiago aiding with a police raid, chasing down the location of the big bad guy in the movie. Quickly, that turns into a chase where the lady running gets away. Well, that's for a reason, he lets her go. They meet up later where you learn that she's an informant, for him specifically, and that she knows quite a lot. Like where the big bad guy is, that the police are paid off, and where the money the department is after is stored. Bam, relationship, motivation to deviate from official sources, target location, etc all accepted in 20 minutes without just standard interview-camera-editing exposition. Nice.
Then Ironside is shown in an auditorium giving a speech to bunch of Soldiers. They're about to get out, and he's convincing them to re-enlist. He lets them know the draw of that sweet contractor paycheck, but warns that it isn't worth it. He's lived that life, and he never felt so good doing his job as he did knowing he had that US flag on his shoulder. This sets up a huge theme immediately. The mission is about a bunch of ex-SF dudes going on an illegal mission to steal money. They don't have a government backing them. What they're doing is a crime, and they're trying to get away with it. Santiago already tried living clean and going through the official channels, but it ain't working. Things are too inefficient, too corrupt. He still holds his ultimate principle of effecting positive change, but has now taken into consideration clandestine, immoral methods. The ends have started to justify the means for Santiago, and he's got to convince the others of that as well.
Ben's character also tackles the very Scorpion and the Frog style nature of men such as him. His hesitance to the mission is out of the idea that he should have hesitance, but does he really? His inability to not plan the mission is something that the rest of the team calls out multiple times as he feigns disinterest or resistance. It's just who he is.
Santiago's words get to him, and to all their dismay, too well. A man of principle who never missed a hard time limit before suddenly starts risking himself, his future, and worst of all: his crew. All in the name of money, to set himself up the way he always believed he should be for his past sacrifices. Of course, it all catches up with him in the end. But it also shows the karmic collateral that comes with the non-consideration of those around you for vain or obsessive pursuits.
Considering who gives Ben's character his due at the end, the strong message about one's past catching up with them was, nearly literally, on the nose. That said, there wasn't an argument, bit of exposition, or thematic line delivered that I felt was forced. Even when they start singing old army songs, something that ALWAYS makes my eyes roll, I buy it. It comes at a time of grief as a surreal coping mechanism. One I'd seen before with my own eyes. Mark must have really spent some time with the kinds of people he writes about.
The way these men can say something and let a concept simmer in silence is perhaps my favorite part. It's more real than people know. It seems like a stoic tactic, but it's organic, and everyone did well in selling that. Besides, how do you speak of the things that are best left unspoken?
Was this supposed to be a gun guy movie? If so, it's adequate. If it was supposed to be a psychological drama, then yeah, mission accomplished. It's a movie that surprised me as it morphed, and I liked it more and more. It's refreshing to see this sort of competence and depth in the subject matter. I'll be watching more of Mr. Boal's movies, that's for sure.