J. C. Chandor’s latest exploration of the psychological depths of America turns it’s attention to the after effects of lives spent in combat, fighting with the belief that the flag on your shoulder is absolves, and with memories that are hard to shake.
The script, written by Chandor and frequent Katheryn Bigelow contributor Mark Boal, focuses on a group of five former soldiers who come together to rob the house of Columbian drug lord Lorena who lives deep in the jungle along with all his money. As a well-executed plan starts to fall apart, the film moves smoothly from an average heist thriller into a more contemplative piece on on masculinity, PTSD and the seductive power of money.
Leading the motley crew is Santiago Garcia (Oscar Isaac), who works in his mother’s country of Columbia alongside a heavy-handed police force fighting the war on drugs. In other hands, this role could easily fall into the trap of being the “fall guy”, the straight character who simply exists to get the band back together. Isaac combines a sense of moral righteousness against Lorena with a desire to get something better from a life spent with a gun in his hand. The other men, Tom Davis (Ben Affleck in a somewhat subdued role), William Miller, (Charlie Hunnam), his brother Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund) and Francisco Morales (Pedro Pascal), don’t need too much persuading to join Santiago, but without him there is no doubt they would have gone about working a series of meaningless jobs and fruitless and damaged relationships without ever planning to take something back.
Something interesting happens about a third of the way through the film. The heist is done, the men have more money than they ever dreamed possible, and are flying towards the ocean and the rest of their lives. Then, they crash, dragged down – literally – by greed and land with a bang in reality. No longer are they men with millions, but back to being five soldiers trekking through the unfriendly terrain with a mission to complete. Chandor and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov capture both the lush verdant jungles and the unfriendly wastelands of the Andes – acres of green stretch out with a single highway weaving elegantly through the trees, later they are struggling up a single track path high in the mountains, on the verge of slipping at every moment.
All five actors put in strong performances and there is a definite chemistry between them which allows for arguments and jokes to land without ever feeling forced – there is the sense of a true bond that they all share – something that can never be replicated outside of the combat conditions.
There’s something interesting to be written here on American imperialism in South America, and the connections between US-backed destabilisation and narcos, but I’m not the right person to write about it. From my own interests, it’s also nice to see Spanish being spoken – and subtitled – in a high-budget genre film without simply being used a lazy shorthand for – as languages other than English so often are – as a simply Us v Them indicator.
If you go into this expecting a simply high octane shootout, you’ll be disappointed, because Triple Frontier manages to offer so much more.