Stories of men searching for riches in Central and South America have been with Western culture since the Spanish first came to the shores of the Carribean. Those stories have been mythologized the world over, with a mythical El Dorado perhaps the most famous of them all. Even in film, characters from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Fast Five, and Pirates of the Carribean have found their riches in the Southern Hemisphere. Today, Netflix looks to add to the grand tradition of finding your wealth in South America with Triple Frontier from director J.C. Chandor. With an ensemble cast that includes Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunham, Pablo Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund, this should be right up our alley. However, despite the star wattage, dips in the storytelling make this an above-average thriller that cannot help but feel like a missed opportunity.
Triple Frontier follows “Pope” Garcia (Isaac), a former special forces soldier has been hunting a crime lord in South America. Through an informant (Adria Arjona), Pope discovers that he can pull off a heist and walk out of the jungle with $75 million. He just needs a crew. He recruits his former army buddies, all of whom are struggling to move on with civilian life. However, when things go sideways in the jungle, their friendships are tested as they race for the Pacific Ocean.
The standout of Triple Frontier wavers between Hunham and Affleck through most of the film. Hunham delivers a surprising gravitas filled performance that allows him to showcase his charisma and brute force simultaneously. As a battered and beaten soldier, the role fits like a glove. His best moments come through his reactions, most of which develop the character’s emotion and frustration with the job. He’s more than just a stand-in, and as the moral compass of the group, he steals a lot of scenes from Isaac.
Meanwhile, Affleck gives a performance that is both sad and self-reflexive. He’s willing to go dirty, and once again, he feels like he’s commenting on his life and career with every choice. He’s a bit of a sad sack, reawakened when he’s doing good work, and then tumbles when money gets involved. You can feel his eyes grow wider than his stomach when he sees the money, and he actually brings some of his movie star charisma to play. Affleck rules in this movie and takes it over in stretches thanks to his volcanic intensity.
Ultimately, the movie struggles because it cannot keep up momentum. It stalls out after the actual heist, which could reasonably find its way into the pantheon of fun action sequences. The scenes that immediately follow feel extremely dull and the stakes are never solidified. We’re told that the solider will get chased down, but nothing really happens until the last fifteen minutes. Instead, the group just kind of wanders around the mountains carrying bags of money and being bad at their jobs for more than half an hour.
Perhaps the most frustrating moment in the whole film comes in the last ten minutes. As the story wraps itself up, each of the characters gets a moment to show their morality. They make the right choice and move on. Then the film sets itself up for an unnecessary sequel, which completely undermines the sacrifices they’ve made. It’s a stunningly frustrating moment, and while I will be eagerly awaiting Quadruple Frontier, it is tough to not feel cheated.
Overall, Triple Frontier is a serviceable action film, and a great one in the first fifty minutes or so. However, due to issues with momentum and story, it grinds to an uninteresting halt about midway through. While some visuals, such as a donkey exploding into a cloud of money, make for some strangely entertaining moments, you may grow bored. You’ve seen most of the actors be better in better movies. Most of all, you’ll just feel like this one missed a golden opportunity to become a throwback action classic.