Even five years ago, a film like ‘Triple Frontier’ would have been hailed as Netflix gold. However, the release of ‘Roma’ last year on Netflix, coupled with the upcoming releases of ‘The Irishman’ and ‘The Laundromat’ has significantly upped the bar for what is considered the standard for Netflix original film releases, and well, film releases in general. In that, ‘Triple Frontier’ is not ground-breaking material, but as far as entertainment is concerned, Netflix’s latest knocks it out of the park with a bloodied steel club; it is that gritty, so much so that I would have happily paid to watch the film in a good cinema.
Its troubled production history is also known to the world by now. The film that was earlier set to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow with Johnny Depp and Tom Hanks signed to star (that would have been something to see!) stayed in development hell with the casting hat shifting between the two stars followed by Tom Hardy, Channing Tatum and then Mahershala Ali, until the project was finally revived by Netflix and it landed upon the current cast, to be directed by J.C. Chandor, retaining only writer Mark Boal from the original crew. Now that it is out, was it worth all the hype and time? I’d say, in a way yes, because the final outcome is an exhilarating action film in parts and a taut atmospheric crime drama in others. Think of it as the ‘A-Team’ in the first bits meeting ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ with a hint of ‘Narcos’ and finally ending as any action survival flick would. Final verdict reserved for the end of the article, we now delve deeper into the film that ‘Triple Frontier’ is.
Plot Summary and Ending
The plot follows five special forces operatives: Ben Affleck as Tom “Redfly” Davis, Oscar Isaac as Santiago “Pope” Garcia, Charlie Hunnam as William “Ironhead” Miller, Garrett Hedlund as Ben Miller and Pedro Pascal as Francisco “Catfish” Morales, each adept in a different skill set and with a shared history of working together. Santiago is the only one in action of the five, still serving under the forces, hunting down narco criminals and hot in the pursuit of Gabriel Martin Lorea, a South American drug lord.
After obtaining a tip off from one of Lorea’s men he downs in an operation and learning that he was stashing close to $75 million in cash in a safehouse, he decides to go after him and starts assembling his former team. Ironhead now delivers positive pep talks to graduating army personnel, while his brother Benny takes part in brutal MMA fights. Catfish, who is also a remarkable pilot is now under review for flying a shipment of cocaine and the last of the lot, the hardest to persuade, Redfly is living the simple American life working as a realtor for a company, a job he barely seems to take any interest in. He is divorced from his wife and carries the responsibility of his two daughters, their bills and education as well. Upon Pope’s persuasion and attempts to get the team together for a recon mission of Lorea’s safehouse, Catfish and Benny give in almost instantly, while Ironhead agrees to be in only if Redfly is. Redfly too eventually gives in only for the recon mission, evidently for the cash, but a look beneath the layers would reveal that he agreed because he actually missed the action.
The five conduct a recon of Lorea’s house and are almost immediately convinced by Pope to be a part of the mission, hit Lorea’s house, and take the money for themselves, after he tells them that serving the nation for twenty years led them to their present condition, and the money could actually improve their lives. The five agree to conduct the hit on a Sunday when the family is out for church, and Lorea stays back with minimal guards for the money. The hit goes almost as planned and the five are easily able to breach the grounds, except that they discover a lot more than $75 million in cash, stashed in the drywall construction of the house.
Immediately greedy, the team begins taking as much of the cash that they can with the clock running against them until they can’t anymore due to maxing out the carrying capacity of their escape vehicle, and also kill Lorea doing a final sweep of the house, but not until Ironhead gets shot in the abdomen. The five then attempt an escape, easily fighting their way through the first wave of returning guards, and after fleeing Lorea’s house, regroup at an airbase nearby. Ironhead through his contact arranges a helicopter for the team to escape from South America, but the bulk of cash the team looted weighs out at 6000 pounds, while the bird can carry 9000 pounds but at an altitude no higher than 2000 feet. Knowing of the imminent risk, the team tow away the cash, partly in suspension and partly in the cabin, with a plan to cross over the Andes and into the ocean, where a vessel is to be waiting for them for safe passage into North America. On the way, they drop off Yovanna, Pope’s informant and her brother into Peru, the duo having helped them set up the heist and conduct a recon of Lorea’s house.
While in the Andes, the team’s passage becomes increasingly difficult with the overweight package in tow, as the altitude continues to rise. In a desperate attempt to go higher to be able to move ahead, the team even loses some of the baggage in the cabin, but despite the reduced weight, the chopper isn’t able to pull through and crashes into a nearby field of cocaine after a resultant gear failure, but not before they let go off the suspended package. The residents of the nearby farming village quickly surround the bags of cash, only as Pope and Redfly confront them and attempt to negotiate, as the situation quickly gets out of bounds and Redfly ends up shooting and killing a handful of the innocent villagers. They then make a deal with the village head in exchange for a hefty amount of cash and continue their journey with the bags mounted on mules.
The team continues along the infamous smuggler’s trail in the Andes, where they even lose one of the mules and the cash on its back in a freak accident. Late for the mission and the meeting point at the beach with boat waiting for them, the five try to scale up the mountain with the package, having to let the mules go. On a particularly cold night, they end up burning a handful of cash to keep themselves warm. The next morning, evidently because of the fire giving their location out, they are ambushed, and in an unexpected turn of events, Redfly is shot in the head by one of the kids from the farming village, and dies. Now broken, the remaining four carry the bags and Redfly’s body downhill into the forests, from where they are supposed to cross over to the beach. Benny volunteers to travel ahead and test the trail to return and brief the other three.
Upon returning, Benny informs the team of the presence of a few villages in the forest with a few professional killers and mostly armed teenagers as part of a mini militia, apparently Lorea’s men, in an attempt to capture the team. Deciding that they can’t go through them, the team finally decides to part their way from the cash, carrying only small amounts they could in their hand kits, dumping the bags in a nearby trench expecting it to be covered by snow in the next few days. Carrying on, they encounter the village, and after making a run for the beach on a small truck they acquire, easily fighting off the young armed soldiers, they finally reach the beach with only Redfly’s body, and are able to escape in the boat waiting for them.
After regrouping apparently in a nearby town, the four decide to donate all that they made out with, close to $5 million, to the Redfly family trust after initiation from Ironhead. As the four bid farewell to go their separate ways, Pope asks Ironhead to remind Redfly’s daughters about the man that he was. Exchanging some final words and lamenting on how wrong their mission went, Ironhead hands over a piece of paper to Redfly with some coordinates, telling him that they could maybe do something good with it someday, as the film closes and cuts to credits. In that, it is wise to assume that the ever calculating Ironhead, who always counted everything, including his number of kills was able to deduce the coordinates from their heading of the trench they dumped the bags of cash in, and hopes that the team could somehow reunite someday, and retrieve the cash while being better prepared. Apart from being an interesting, forward looking end to a movie whose proceedings went too southward too quick, this might also be setting the original up for a possible sequel. Fingers crossed on that one.
What is the ‘Triple Frontier’?
Consider yourself reasonably well informed if you didn’t find the need to google the meaning of ‘Triple Frontier’ as soon as you saw the title of the film advertised. However, for those well versed with the South American landscape or the behind the scenes of the narcotics world from watching too much television, this is an easy one. ‘Triple Frontier’ is actually the name of the notoriously infamous border region between the countries Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, capped by the Andes range on the west, a region that gets the reputation because of the frequent drug activity and vast fields of narcotics in the valleys. Most of the film is set in the geographic region of the triple frontier, complete with the mountains from the Andes range and the rainforests in the foothills with the sea shore nearby. The vast unknowns of these tough geographical conditions form a host of challenges for the team to follow and fulfil, and in that, the ‘Triple Frontier’ becomes more than a mere backdrop for the action to take place. Every locale beautifully captured, the region lends itself an eerie, tough yet sublime character in the film itself.
Is Triple Frontier Based on a True Story?
While I agree that this could have been a wondrous selling point for the film, ‘Triple Frontier’ is a completely fictional tale, and not by any means based on a true story. However, a close examination would reveal its fair share of inspirations though, as listed out in the beginning of the article. Althuogh, that being said, the actors, all of whom did a great job portraying the unlikely distinctiveness of their characters are reported to have based the mannerisms of their characters and training on actual army men and men of uniform. Apart from the gorgeous geography of its real life locations and the truth behind the drug trafficking premise of the film, little in the film is non-fictitious.
What takes the film a notch above your standard run of the mill action film are the themes that seem to populate the film’s rather uneven narrative. Yes, the premise of the film is known from the trailers: a group of ex-servicemen reuniting for a heist that does not go as planned and things quickly spiralling out of control until they are left to fight for survival, but there is more to look for here, albeit seldom does the exploration of these themes seems completely original.
For one, a point where the first crack in the canter appears during the heist is when we see Redfly get excessively hasty and greedy for all the cash that the team discovers stashed away. Presented as a man of honour and honesty, he quickly sheds his honour to get his hands on some blood money, undergoing a downer in his personal life as well. In that, greed and its downside is one of the underlying themes that the film houses in its narrative, presenting us multiple instances where these men of honour sully their hands in order to keep the money that only seems to be getting out of hand as the clock progresses. The death of the mule as it falls from the narrow trail, a rather ghastly scene, as the money on its back scatters in the valley, the killing of innocent villagers by Redfly, something that he couldn’t have walked off as a soldier, also proving the age old adage that when it comes to money, even the noblest of them fall and how, in the end paying the ultimate price for it, and the team virtually coming off with none of the loot, paying the price with their friend’s life and “getting what they deserved”, ultimately rendering the entire mission a statement in the negative.
However, despite the perils the mission brought along, the only apparent reason the team made it this far after things went south and survived is because they stuck together, trusting each other with their lives moving forward, even if they had little tiffs along the way, especially following Redfly’s death. The other theme that thereby emerges is that of loyalty, novelty and honour, something that the team was quick to shed off in the wake of finding the money, but sought to reclaim in the end by donating their share of the loot to Redfly’s family.
‘Triple Frontier’ is no Oscar bait film, neither does it thankfully intend to be. Relentlessly tense in its first half with immensely well-choreographed action pieces, the film works simultaneously as a crime drama, an out and out action flick and in the end, a survival flick, but through and through an overall thrill ride. Some of it is even edge of the seat stuff, and is executed well enough to warrant your attention for its runtime. However, as was visible from the trailers, the strongest suit of the film is undoubtedly its ensemble of actors whose performances effectively buoy the film through its tense, reckless bits of action, and the softer moments of camaraderie between them. For all I can say, this exciting selection of actors could have sleepwalked through their roles and still looked good doing so. Affleck, Isaac, Hunnam, Pascal and Hedlund are a heady team up of finely aged actors, imbuing their tough as nail army-men characters a certain humanity, also effortless in the fast paced gunfights and chases.
The film, overall, is a thorough thrill ride and a handsomely mounted action film more than any other intermixing genre, uncluttered in its execution, even though the plot may seem to lose a bit of steam before quickly being back on track. If the final bit towards the ending is any indication for a sequel, we’d rather not wait long, seeing as though this one turned out to be among the better Netflix originals in a long time with a far superior production quality. Affleck, I’d sorely miss ye though.