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!

Musings on the Spielberg VS Netflix Debate

Hello readers! Today is the fifth and up until a couple of years ago, it’s customary that I post five random movie news/tidbits/query under the Five for the Fifth series. Well, this topic would certainly be part of that series today!

I had thought about this quite a bit since I heard about Steven Spielberg’s plan to push for the Academy to ban Netflix from Oscars at its annual post-Oscars meeting. Spielberg is the Academy Governor of the directors branch and this is what his company Amblin spokesperson is quoted as saying:

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation… He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens.” (per Variety)

I didn’t know this but apparently Spielberg has said in the past that Netflix films should only be eligible for Emmys rather than Oscars. Again per Variety, this is what he said back in 2018: “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

This news was first reported by Indiewire, and it lists some of the complaints from Hollywood studios against the streaming service. Among others, the fact that Netflix doesn’t report box office and that it doesn’t respect the 90-day theatrical window. ROMA only spent spent 3 weeks in the theatre before it’s shown on Netflix.

Now, this is what Netflix responded with on Twitter a couple of days later, without mentioning Spielberg by name…


Now, when I first read Spielberg’s comment, I was already unnerved by it. My initial reaction is that he’s just a big Hollywood elite who does not like change, especially one that threatens his own status and tradition he holds dear. No doubt that ‘threat’ got bigger when Netflix’s ROMA got no less than 10 nominations at the Oscars this year AND won three, including Best Foreign Language film.

Now, I don’t have to be a filmmaker to realize how tough it is not only to get a film made, but to get it distributed. An indie filmmaker would be lucky to get even a limited theatrical release, and few could expect to get a wide release the way a standard legacy (studio) system would. The title of the IndieWire article alone says it all about what this ‘battle’ means for the underdogs, aka indie filmmakers…

The Spielberg vs. Netflix Battle Could Mean Collateral Damage for Indies at the Oscars

I recognize that many of the films Netflix campaign aggressively for Oscars were about people of color AND were made by people of color who are still very much a minority under the Hollywood legacy system… Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga), 13th (Ava Duvernay), Mudbound (Dee Rees), and Roma (Alfonso Cuarón).

So naturally, as a filmmaker of color myself who’s trying to get a feature made, I experience it firsthand how arduous it is to get the chance to make a film. Indie filmmakers don’t get the privilege to expect ANY theatrical release, and many consider getting even a streaming release as a huge accomplishment. Thus I see Netflix as an ally to independent filmmakers, and also filmmakers of color. Based on the films they’ve made/distributed, they seem committed to inclusive storytelling which can only be a good thing for film fans everywhere. But of course that’s still somehow seen as a challenge to the ‘status quo’ who only says they support ‘diversity’ if it aligns with their own success and pocketbooks.

As a film fan, I have increasingly choose to see films on my TV rather than going to the theater. Yes, as a press member I do get invited to advanced screenings, but if I miss some of those films, I often choose to wait until it’s available on VOD. Now, when I know it’s a Netflix film or an Amazon Studio film, I’m glad to know that I can see it sooner and without paying extra because I already have subscriptions to both streaming services. So to me, the quality of a film and its legitimacy to be regarded as a motion picture (read: its Oscars-eligibility) has no bearing on where it’s presented. Spielberg seems to say that there is one way to see a movie and that is on the big screen. I think that communal way of film viewing will never go away, and I still do enjoy seeing some films on the big screen (even in IMAX if it’s made specifically for that giant screen), but there is really no wrong way to see a movie.

Many Hollywood studios don’t like the fact that Netflix doesn’t report theatrical grosses. They are starting to share some metrics of audience viewerships (per BGR.com) so perhaps they’d do the same with theatrical release numbers in the future? Not that it matters to me, the audience member, nor should it have any bearing in the quality of a film.

Even before the Spielberg news came out, Alfonso Cuarón already weighed in on this subject to Variety:

There needs to be greater diversity in how we release our films. Distribution models need to be more flexible, depending on the film. You cannot impose the release strategy of a tentpole film on a smaller film. You may need fewer theaters and longer runs or models in which the so-called window is shorter. We’re thinking in one single paradigm. It’s a moment to start opening up paradigms. Right now it’s a confrontation between economic models. It’s not like one model benefits cinema, and the other does not.


Now, I’m NOT writing this because I’m on the side of a multi-billion dollar streaming company. In fact, I’ve been a longtime fan of Spielberg, but his comments shows him as being out of touch and elitist who wants to maintain his status quo. He’s a product of the studio system where minorities (women, people of color, disabled, etc) struggle to get in and tell their story.

I came across this thread from Franklin Leonard, the founder of The Black List (an annual survey of Hollywood’s executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays), and it’s hard to argue with his points…


Yes I realize some of you might argue that Netflix is not an ‘underdog’ company that deserves our sympathy. After all it spent about $50 million for Roma‘s Oscar campaign alone. So perhaps the argument should be about limiting spending on Oscar campaigns? I personally can’t stand studio’s award campaign, that’s one of the worst things about award season for me. But if the film Netflix or other streaming service is promoting is a worthy one, who’s to say it’s not eligible to be included in the Oscar race??

As I have just seen a Netflix Original Film last night, TRIPLE FRONTIER. It’s the first time I saw a Netflix film on the big screen, surely the first of many. At the film premiere, no doubt this topic was all the buzz. One of the film’s star who’s also a filmmaker, Ben Affleck, is naturally supportive of Netflix, saying that “they’re helping define the future of cinema and distribution” (per Deadline).

Per Cinema Blend, Affleck spoke of his rationale why he wouldn’t be in Spielberg’s camp in trying to disqualify streaming films (even those that has limited theatrical release) from competing at Oscars…

We certainly approached [Triple Frontier] as any other movie. There’s no difference when you’re making it between what the platform is that it’s going to be seen on. I do think Netflix is doing more interesting stuff in creating a more cinematic experience for the home. More people, more viewers, bigger TVs, bigger sound. They’re doing Dolby Cinema color correction, they do Dolby Atmos sound mixes. So they’re sort of synthesizing the theatrical with the home viewing experience in a kind of interesting way. It’s all changing very fast.


Netflix continues to work with big names in filmmaking, (One of Triple Frontier‘s executive producers is Kathryn Bigelow) and they’ve got Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman with its all-star cast (DeNiro, Pacino, Harvey Keitel) which will likely get an even wider release than ROMA. I personally think it’s an exciting time as a film fan as we have more options for content and how we want to see them.

So in conclusion, I’m glad there are streaming services like Netflix exists. I’m lucky that I live in a city where there are plenty of cinemas. But even so, there are always smaller films that I want to see that don’t get shown or they’re shown only in 1-2 theaters in Minneapolis for 2 weeks tops. I’d imagine people in rural or remote areas don’t even get that same privilege, but it’d be easier for them to subscribe to streaming services like Netflix.

In the end, I believe in options… I like to be able to see movies wherever and whenever I want. In the ideal world, the theatrical and streaming model should co-exist. Just because something has been done one way for so long doesn’t mean it has to be the ONLY way.


So what do you think of this Spielberg VS Netflix debate? Let’s hear it!