If the best of the original films from Netflix share a common thread, it’s that they’ve allowed interesting filmmakers to spend money on movies that might not fit the multiplex mode. That’s how we got pictures as different as “Roma,” “High Flying Bird” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.”
Same goes for “Triple Frontier,” which will play in theaters for a week before debuting on Netflix on March 13. This is a heist movie that’s more interested in characters than action scenes, and more invested in moral questions than in suspense.
However: The action scenes and the suspense are absolutely top-notch.
The heist is an unorthodox one. Five former Special Forces soldiers are reunited by their ringleader (Oscar Isaac) to return to South America and ambush a loathsome drug lord at his jungle lair.
There are idealistic reasons for going after the kingpin. But he’s also rumored to have tens of millions of dollars sitting around his house.
This is tempting, because the old friends are struggling in their post-service lives. Ben Affleck plays the baddest of these dudes, now awkwardly trying to sell condos to home-buyers who are understandably spooked by his simmering anger and blimp-like biceps.
Charlie Hunnam gives cautionary lectures to military recruits; his brother, played by “Mudbound” star Garrett Hedlund, absorbs beatings in the world of mixed martial arts. The final member, played by Pedro Pascal (“Narcos”), is a pilot who just lost his license.
The heist sequence is a nail-biter, and its aftermath is full of surprises. What’s not surprising is that human greed will enter the equation, and affect even the most meticulously thought-out plans.
The script by Mark Boal (Oscar-winner for “The Hurt Locker”) and J.C. Chandor can be compared to a classic like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” where men turn on each other when they get gold in their duffel bags. But in a way, “Triple Frontier” is the opposite of that: It’s about how bad judgment can still be redeemed by brotherly support.
The result is a hard, solid quest movie, well played by the hyper-masculine cast. Isaac is just slippery enough to make you wonder about his motives, and “Sons of Anarchy” star Hunnam brings his understated style, which plays nicely against his louder castmates.
Affleck is a standout in this ensemble, as a man of violence left absolutely adrift in the regular world; he carries his grim disappointment like barbells across his neck. It’s a potent turn by an actor whose screen presence has seemed adrift in recent years.
Director Chandor previously made the talky “Margin Call” and the non-talky “All Is Lost.” He keeps the beat going, faltering only with some on-the-nose song choices and a tendency for the guys to belabor how society has let them down.
Chandor and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov capture some amazing locations in the challenging aftermath of the heist. In this scenario, the only thing more rugged than the landscape is the collective will of our battered adventurers.
“Triple Frontier” (3 stars)
A hard, suspenseful quest movie, in which five ex-Special Forces soldiers re-team to invade the jungle lair of a South American drug lord — who happens to have tens of millions of dollars stashed in the place. Director J.C. Chandor focuses on moral decisions as well as action, and he’s got a game cast of hyper-masculine actors, led by Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck and Charlie Hunnam.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Opening: Crest theater; on Netflix on March 13