Film Review – Triple Frontier
In Wall Street (1987), Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko uttered the famous line, “Greed…is good.” What he failed to mention is that greed also comes with a price. That’s the hard lesson that befalls our protagonists in Triple Frontier (2019). This is the tale of five ex-Special Ops soldiers who take it upon themselves to make the biggest heist they could have ever dreamed of. But that dream quickly turns into a nightmare when they realize they bit off more than they can chew.
Director J.C. Chandor (who co-writes the screenplay with Mark Boal), lays out the narrative in a straight forward fashion. These characters talk with direct phrases and work with the efficiency that comes with experience on the battle field. The action is non-flashy, with Chandor (and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov) never capturing these men as heroic figures (because technically they’re not). They have all felt the pressure of life outside of armed combat, and each have had difficulty adjusting to a civilian life. So instead of working through their anxieties and shortcomings, they decide to rob a man named Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos), one of the most notorious drug kings in South America.
I’ve always found this strange about movie characters who choose to commit a crime for a quick buck. They have all the means to pull of the robbery – the tech, the knowledge, the expertise – and yet don’t choose to use those skills for good. Yes, the person they’re stealing from is not a saint, but that doesn’t excuse the immorality of what the soldiers are doing. Tom (Ben Affleck) can navigate through enemy territory, but can barely hold a job as a real estate agent and worries about putting his kids through school. Will (Charlie Hunnam) gives talks to fellow soldiers about the psychological effects of battle, and his brother Ben (Garrett Hedlund) is a mixed martial arts fighter, and yet neither one has their hearts in it. Francisco (Pedro Pascal) is a skilled pilot but his current job is so meaningless that it’s barely an afterthought. And Pope (Oscar Isaac) is so fed up with trying to do the right thing and having nothing to show for it that he was the one who hatched the idea and convinced the others to come along.
The most tension filled scene is the robbery itself, which surprisingly happens early on into the runtime. The suspense comes from two factors, the first being the sheer amount of money the team comes face to face with. Lorea doesn’t just have millions of dollars, he has hundreds of millions of dollars. The stacks of cash are so enormous that it literally fills the walls of Lorea’s home. This poses as both a good and bad thing. It’s no doubt the score of a lifetime, but it brings about the question of how the team will transport such load out of the country with the cartel surely on their tails (more on this later).
Time also plays a crucial factor. With the help of an insider named Yovanna (Adria Arjona), they learn of a short window of opportunity when Lorea’s compound is nearly deserted. This might seem like a simple enough task to pull off, but when the team discovers how much money there is, the temptation to take “just one more bag of cash” grows stronger. Throughout the entire sequence, we push toward the edge of our seats waiting to see if they will hang around a little too long before the cartel comes back to catch them red handed.
This scene alone would work well as the climactic point of any other crime drama, but Chandor and Boal have other things in mind. What Triple Frontier is about really takes place after, with the team struggling to carry such a large haul out of South America. Along the way, they run into one obstacle after another, slowly peeling away bags of cash to lessen the weight on their shoulders or to pay off anybody willing to help them. And that’s where “Greed with a price” comes into play. The most fascinating aspect is seeing how each of the characters try to balance the risk and the reward on a personal level. How much money are they willing to let go and still say that it was worth it?
Now, if the film were to simply end with this theme holding strong, then we would have a thoughtful, albeit familiar, crime story. However, Triple Frontier stumbles at the finish line with a last second twist that pulls the rug out from under us, doing an about-face against everything it was arguing for up to that point. Instead of these characters coming to the belief that money doesn’t equal happiness, they walk away basically learning the opposite. Instead of heroes who learn the error of their ways, they turn into villains who are rewarded for being villains. It’s such a strange narrative decision that it almost single handedly ruins everything. It’s an ending I believe Gordon Gekko would’ve been proud of.