de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

When a group of former Special Ops reunite to take down a South American drug lord and steal his mansion full of money, they get more than they bargained for when things go awry and pressures mount.

After spending years bouncing around from different studios and filmmakers, with even Kathryn Bigelow attached at one point, “Triple Frontier” comes to us from Netflix, hot off their recent success with the Oscar-winning “Roma”. Helmed by “A Most Violent Year” and “Margin Call” director J.C. Chandor and co-written by Oscar winning screenwriter Mark Boal, “Triple Frontier” is a larger and seemingly more commercial film for Chandor, but it doesn’t lose his usual ambitions.

Oscar Isaac’s Santiago “Pope” is an active Special Ops agent who has spent the past three years searching for drug lord, Gabriel Lorea. After finally getting a tip of his whereabouts from his informant Yovanna (Adria Arjona), whom he has feelings for, Pope senses a way out of his current life and comes up with a heist to take out Lorea and steal his money.
Pope gathers his former Spec Ops comrades, Pope’s best friend, Tom “Redfly” (Ben Affleck), a divorced father and down-on-his-luck real estate agent, Will “Ironhead” (Charlie Hunnam), a veteran who’s used as a recruiting tool for the Army, Will’s brother Ben “Benny” (Garrett Hedlund), a struggling MMA fighter, and Francisco “Catfish” (Pedro Pascal), a recent father and ex drug addict. Together they attempt to raid Lorea’s mansion, kill the drug lord and take the cash to give themselves a better life. At least, that’s the plan.

All five actors have a strong camaraderie with one another. Their chemistry helps deepen the most intense moments, making them more nail-biting. Affleck in particular nails the duality of his character. He sells the hesitant, world-weary father who’s not sure about seeing more action, and also a man who will do whatever it takes to make it out alive with millions, even if it means taking a darker approach to the mission. Oscar Isaac is his usual compelling self as the ring leader of the group leading the charge.
Some of the actors are a bit short-changed, however. Pascal and Hedlund don’t have nearly the amount of depth as the rest of the cast, despite their strong performances.

Both the acting team and Chandor along with co-writer Boal deserve credit for going places many films in the genre don’t bother to go recently. These guys are not invincible. They’re veterans that have seen better days and that factors in to their strategy. They have battle scars both internally and externally which prevent them from getting the job done in simpler fashion. They can’t run away in the mountains with bags of cash on their backs. They cannot afford any mishaps, otherwise their plan is gone. They’re also completely flawed humans. We see them cross numerous lines they may not be able to come back from, adding to their conflict.

This isn’t a film loaded with action, but when the action hits, it hits hard. There’s an electricity that Chandor brings to the action sequences. Nothing is overtly stylized, but the swift precision in the camerawork and the breakneck pace make several sequences leave knots in your stomach that don’t leave quickly. The heist sequence particularly is a masterclass in building suspense and defying expectations.

This is Chandor firing on all cylinders. You feel his tight grasp on the film in every department. Nothing feels phoned in or accidental, even down to its roaring soundtrack ranging from Metallica to Bob Dylan.

This is a taut, sometimes unbearably tense thriller that doesn’t hold any punches. What starts off as a suspenseful heist thriller, turns into a full-on brutal and gritty action film that deftly explores themes of greed and morality. It’s a thoughtful and ambitious film that makes for a first-rate thriller. I suspect this will be another big hit for Netflix.