' ' Cinema Romantico: Triple Frontier

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Triple Frontier

As someone who wrote and directed “Margin Call”, putting the financial crisis into context for the laypersons, and “All Is Lost”, about a lone man stranded on a boat trying to survive, J.C. Chandor has generally preferred pragmatic procedure to pulp. And so even if his 2019 action epic “Triple Frontier” devotes a considerable chunk of time to putting a gang together and opens with a shootout at a South American discotheque, where the baddies pump out their own music as the bullets fly, a soundtrack to die to, it never becomes as pulpy as its intriguing “Three Kings” crossed with the opening action passage of “Predator” premise suggests. No, Chandor, in co-writing his film with Mark Boal, seeks to condemn avarice while also teasing topical notions overtly tacked on around it rather than embedded within, featuring characters who are mostly too nebulously drawn to make their warrior turned mercenary arcs resonate, rendering “Triple Frontier” as less exacting than as weighed down as the chopper carrying their score.

The ringleader is Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), a vaguely defined American military advisor who promises an informant he will give her safe passage out of Colombia. Safe passage out of Colombia, that is, so long as she gives up the exact location of an infamous drug lord hiding out in the jungle with millions just waiting to be stolen. This renders his motivations as conflicted, if not dubious, and Isaac plays the part slyly, not as an anti-hero but with a straightforward politeness where you can’t quite tell if it’s b.s. When he looks his pal’s teenage daughter in the eye and asks if her old man might be up for joining up, Isaac is daring you to call his bluff. The whole performance exudes such simultaneous cordiality and slipperiness that it feels as if some big payoff lays in wait, though all “Triple Frontier” manages is something akin to the T-1000 learning to shoot people in the kneecaps instead of the brain.

Pope’s crew is all ex-military, including single dad Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck). Though the movie takes us through a day in his life, just the way he is costumed in his introductory scene as a realtor, in a red polo, baggy khakis and bulbous white sneakers, demonstrates a man entirely out of place. And once he is in the jungle, carrying a weapon and issuing orders, as played by Affleck, his demeanor does not radically shift but he suddenly becomes locked in, like it’s second nature, the decisiveness of his words and actions, even when he gets stars in his eyes looking all that money, neatly juxtaposed against his sloppiness back home. The other three men on the job, alas, two brothers and a former pilot who’s lost his license, lack definition, some muddled mixture of allegiance to their pal, not enough money, and the thrill of the action being gone, rendering them less compelling when the shit hits the fan.

The triple frontier of the title would seem in reference to the tri-border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, an infamously lawless area, though despite giving Chandor’s movie its name, never gets explored, never mind shouted out, a stand in for global veracity. This odd vagueness is emblematic of the drug dealer himself who is seen, briefly, though he could have been faceless, a MacGuffin in human form. Honestly, the title should have been Mo Money Mo Problems. It would have been no less subtle than a mid-movie montage set to “Masters of War” yet more apt since the notion of American Interventionism and Imperialism is less the point, or even the sub-point, than old-fashioned greed, where even the gang’s chopper crashing in a remote village comes down to them buying their way out.

The chopper crash hampers their getaway, forcing them to walk through the Andes, the best sequence in the film, with rife with powerful details and images, a pack mule’s grisly death underscoring the quest’s cosmic pointlessness as powerfully as the men lighting stacks of cash on fire at high altitude for warmth artfully suggests how the wealthy have their heads in the clouds. These are isolated, though, rather than strung together in one powerful rising narrative to bring the point home, the allegory never scrupulously refined a la “All Is Lost”, the twist, if you want to call it that, still seeming, in its way, to suggest that despite so much trouble and considerable posturing to the contrary, money is what everyone needs.

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