FlixChatter Review: TRIPLE FRONTIER (2019)

As of last October, Netflix began offering press screenings for its original movies. Yet for some reason, this is the first time I’m seeing a Netflix Original Movie on the big screen. The tile seems rather generic, but the term Triple Frontier actually refers to a tri-border area along the junction of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where the action takes place in this heist crime drama.

When I first saw the trailer, I thought this was directed by one of its stars Ben Affleck as he’s specialized in crime dramas in his directing career. But no, it’s directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost) based on a screenplay he’s written with Mark Boal (Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty). The mastermind of the heist is Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia (Oscar Isaac). We first saw him with his special ops team exchanging gun fire with the people working for powerful drug lord Lorea. I feel the film should’ve opened with Isaac’s character instead of someone else’s. In any case, Pope’s been trying for years to get to Lorea, and for the first time, he’s finally got a credible tip from an informant, Yovana (Adria Arjona).

Instead of alerting FBI or DEA, Pope decided to take this upon himself to bring down Lorea. Well in order to do that, he enlists four of his former Special Forces buddies to join him on this dangerous mission. The film took a bit of time to introduce us to the team: Affleck’s Tom aka Redfly, William aka Ironhead (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Ben (Garrett Hedlund), and Francisco aka Catfish (Pedro Pascal). Affleck’s basically a down-on-his-luck divorcee who’s been shot five times but now couldn’t even sell a condo to save his life. Despite being strapped for cash and concerned for his daughter, Redfly is the hardest for Pope to convince to join the mission… and for good reason.

The trailer tells us it’s a heist movie and this time, it’s the Americans robbing a drug lord… AND they’re doing it for self, not country. Executive-produced by Kathryn Bigelow who’s no stranger to military-minded stories, Triple Frontier is a heist action movie with a moral quandary. If the guy you rob is a criminal, does it make it less of a crime? I like that the script examines these soldiers’ psyche and moral conscience when faced with such a lucrative but self-serving mission.

The heist itself is quite suspenseful, with plenty of scenes during torrential downpours in the South American jungle and rural areas. People who likes action movies would probably expect more shoot-em-up scenes like in Sicario and fans of Netflix’s NARCOS has definitely seen more brutal violence and extreme gore. I’m glad it isn’t the case here. To me, the highlights of the movie are not so much the action itself, but the psychology of the characters, and the moral dialog the team have throughout the harrowing journey. It’s no surprise that money (especially a huge amount of it) has a forcefully-mesmerizing power and this movie is none too subtle to reveal how fast greed could take over even the seemingly prudent person.

I like that the movie isn’t too concerned about plot twist, but focus more on the moral dilemma. It centers on the themes greed and honor, and how those two things are mutually exclusive. At times Triple Frontier feels like an adventure road movie, which I find mostly engaging as they face one hurdle after another. Each of the five ensemble cast is given a moment to shine, some more than others. Casting-wise, since its inception nearly a decade ago, there have been big names attached, from Tom Hanks, Leo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Tom Hardy, Denzel Washington, etc. But I think the group as it is now works pretty well and it doesn’t rely so much on star power (even Affleck is more subdued here), but more on the power of the ensemble. Isaac definitely has leading man charisma and he’s technically the lead of the film more than Affleck. I personally wish Charlie Hunnam gets more work, he’s an underrated actor whose strong performances often gets overlooked (i.e. The Lost City of Z).

Now, there’s a lot of testosterone here featuring five really hunky men. I suppose the story calls for it, and I for one don’t expect every single film to pass the Bechdel Test. That said, it’s a pity that the sole female character that’s crucial to the story, Yovana, is barely given a compelling arc. Even Isaac’s character is a mystery to me. Other than the fact he’s got a personal vendetta against Lorea and that he feels he deserves to be rewarded more for his military service, we don’t really know much about him.

That said, there’s plenty to like about this film and I’m glad I saw it on the big screen. Netflix now offers their original films in Dolby Color Grading and Dolby Atmos so the movie looks and sounds great. The cinematography by Roman Vasyanov is quite stunning, especially when they get to the Andes mountains. The ensemble cast and taut script makes this a journey worth taking. I might even see it again when it’s out on Netflix.


Have you seen TRIPLE FRONTIER? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Zero Dark Thirty

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Apart from perhaps Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow’s films are often a one-time-viewing-only for me and this one is no exception. It’s not a dis mind you, it’s just that the subject matter she picks are usually so difficult to watch.

The beginning of the film took us back to September 11, 2001. With nothing appearing on screen, we hear the tape of the air controller and 911 operators responding to the people in the twin towers. It was an efficient way to remind us what’s really at stake in the investigations that take place two years later. A CIA officer named Maya has just been brought to the black site where an ongoing interrogation of an alleged terrorist takes place. It’s during the first 20 minutes of the torture and humiliation scenes, including waterboarding, that’s become the subject of tons of controversies. Kathryn Bigelow has since defended her film, saying that “…depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices.” Well said, I’d say.

This film definitely challenges us to ponder on various moral issues and as a viewer I was put into a roller coaster ride as all kinds of raw emotions run through me. At the center of it all, we have a relentless protagonist Maya, who’s become obsessed with this manhunt. What started out as an assignment straight out being recruited out of high school, her hunt for Bin Laden (nicknamed ‘UBL’ by her colleagues) quickly became a personal vendetta.

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It plays like a documentary at times in the way it depicts true events such as the various terrorist bombings, including one that Maya herself almost become a victim of at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan. Despite its claim that it was based on true events though, of course it’s still a movie so creative liberties are obviously taken. As a thriller, it definitely works. Despite the 157-minute running time, Bigelow’s direction based on Mark Boal’s script managed to keep my attention throughout. There’s not a boring moment as even the slower moments are packed with tension. There’s also some humorous moments such as when Maya relentlessly writes on the glass window of her CIA boss how many days its been since she gave out her intel but nothing has been done about it. She also delivered the most bad-ass lines to Leon Panetta (played by Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini) when he asked who she was during a meeting discussing Bin Laden’s compound.

“I’m the motherf***** who found this place, sir!”

I don’t like to cuss but that is one heck of an awesome line delivered in such deadpan perfection by Jessica Chastain. She gave a credible performance in the role. Maya’s reserved, even aloof at times, but she’s definitely a fighter and she stops at nothing to get the job done. There’s a powerful scene where she tells her boss Joseph Bradley a piece of her mind, it was a ‘you go girl’ moment and Chastain nailed it.The supporting cast delivered a solid performance as well, most notably Jason Clarke (an Aussie who always play Americans), Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong. Joel Edgerton plays one of the SEALS Team Six that appeared in the last 40 minutes of the actual raid in the compound in Abbottabad.

I thought that the whole sequence was well-directed. The views from night-vision goggles and the handheld camera movements offer quick cuts in a dark environment, but thankfully it didn’t make me feel nauseous watching it. I’m also glad that Bigelow didn’t over-dramatize the actual killing of Bin Laden with excessive slo-mo, what have you. Though we know how the end plays out, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish.

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The end of such an exhilarating, dangerous, and not to mention expensive operation ends with a solemn moment of Maya alone on an airplane as she leaves the military base. It’s the right kind of sentiment I’d expect someone in her position would have. She’s spent years at the agency to finally get to this moment, to bring justice a man who has killed thousands of innocent victims. But yet, there’s no self-congratulatory cheer, no high-fives with the troops… it’s not a moment of celebration. It was such a relief for me that the whole ordeal is over and I had only been watching it for 2.5 hours, I can’t begin to imagine how the real ‘Maya’ must have felt.

As I said in my Oscar nominations reaction, I think Bigelow was snubbed and now I’m even more convinced of it. It was a well-crafted film all around, the non-flashy, no non-sense directing style works for this subject matter, and acting-wise it was top notch. The whole film was enhanced by the terrific score Alexander Desplat. It’s minimalistic but definitely effective in setting the mood. A riveting film that certainly leaves much to ponder about for days to come.

4.5 out of 5 reels

What are your thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear it.