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Movie Review: "Triple Frontier" Finally Answers the Question: Are Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund the Same Person?

Starring Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal
Story by Mark Boal
Screenplay by Mark Boal and J.C. Chandor
Directed by J.C. Chandor

Reviewed by Patrick & Paul Gibbs

 Out of Four

Growing up as two of four brothers (plus a sister who wanted to fit in with four brothers) we were big fans of The A-Team and other "guys on a mission" military stories.The 1970 World War II heist film Kelly Heroes, which starred Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Archie Bunker and about a fourth of the other working actors in Hollywood, was a favorite. If you've seen the film, you know that tells the story of a group of GI's who come up with a scheme to steal millions in Nazi gold, fighting a daring mission behind enemy lines but doing it for themselves instead of glory or country. As much as we enjoyed the funny and super violent satire (please, no negative waves. Keep all of your comments about this movie peaceful and righteous), as literalist kids we found ourselves wondering: how exactly are these guys "heroes"? Sure, they kill la lot of Germans (many of them likely draftee soldiers just like themselves who are not even official members of the Nazi party) and they end up liberating a small French Village, but do the means really justify the end? Over the years, the concept has been explored in other films, including the David O. Russell classic Three Kings (which saw its "heroes" finding a higher purpose). But what we haven't seen is a version that really wants to concentrate on the larger question of "should they do it?" rather than "can they do it?"

Writer/director J.C Chandor (A Most Violent Year, Margin Call) is all about these kinds of questions, and when you combine him with Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, who have made something of a niche for themselves in tackling controversial military operations, you have a recipe for a whole new take on the old cliches.

Santiago "Pope" Garcia (Oscar Isaac) works for a private military outfit in Columbia combating drug trafficking. During his time there, an informant named Yovanna asks for his help with smuggling her and her brother out of the country in exchange for information on the whereabouts of a drug lord named Lorea.

Yovanna (Adria Arjona of Pacifc Rim: Uprising) tells Garcia that Lorea lives in a safehouse in the jungle along with upwards of $75 million. Garcia travels home to America to recruit his old Delta Force friends for a job to seize the money: Tom "Redfly" Davis (Ben Affleck); William "Ironhead" Miller (Charlie Hunnam), his brother Ben "Garrett Hedlund" Miller (Garrett Hedlund), and Francisco "Catfish" Morales (Pedro Pascal), a former pilot.

Redfly is the most respected of the group as a leader, but he is hesitant to return to combat. At first he agrees only to join the team for reconnaissance, but upon learning how much money is involved, eventually decides to not only join them for the raid, but to take on a leadership role.

Affleck and Isaac are terrific in the lead roles, mixing star quality with a sense of understated realism. Affleck brings a deep sense of depression and angry desperation to his character, while imbuing Redfly with just enough larger than life machismo to easily see why these guys have built him into a legend in their minds, and the feeling that you are watching "Sad Affleck" playing himself really adds to the reality and sense of melancholy. Isaac ((who starred in A Most Violent Year), the true protagonist, ably carries the film, and the two have a very intriguing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth dynamic with Affleck's character reluctantly pulled in by Isaac's assured enthusiasm but soon finding himself the one who can't stop himself from digging in too far. Hunnam really benefits from the chance to play a supporting character in an ensemble, and his Ironhead plays a bit like a weak willed, passive aggressive and heavily armed Jiminy Cricket to Isaac's Pinocchio. Pascal has some very strong moments, and while Hedlund is given the least to work with, he makes it count when he does gets to those moments.

Chandor is a truly great director, and while this isn't quite up there with A Most Violent Year, he keeps it taught and involving, and his signature approach to acting and characterization (which can summed up in three words: keep it real) is a big part of what makes the movie play. The script keeps the story credible, occasionally giving way to cliche in some of the dialogue (especially in some of Isaac's justification speeches). But it's a strong script overall, and while some are arguing that the characters are underdeveloped because we don't get to know enough about them, we argue that we know everything we need to. Character development and character background are two different things, and the misuse and generalization of "not enough character development" is becoming far too much of lazy "I am so smart, S-M-R-T" crutch in critical writing.

Triple Frontier plays off of the tendency in entertainment (and real life) to use the need to curb drug trafficking to justify anything, and Chandor's expert staging makes it just violent enough to make its point without getting excessive. It's a skillfully made film that combines the kind of '90's action thriller that we don't get anymore with a sad thoughtfulness and sense of regret. It may not be winning any Oscars, but it is more than worth your time.

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