Track record: A bunch of disillusioned military veterans decides to hunt down a feared Brazilian drug lord
– IMAGE COURTESY: NETFLIX
Netflix’s big release of the month embraces every predictable Hollywood action formula
These last few weeks have been very eventful as far as Hollywood is concerned, especially with regard to the ongoing turf war between Netflix and legacy Hollywood studios. First, Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director at the Oscars for his Netflix production Roma (it also won for Best Foreign Language Film). This was a major coup for the streaming giant. Roma had been given a three-week theatrical run in select theatres especially to meet qualification criteria for the Oscars. And now, Steven Spielberg is reportedly leading a directors’ lobby which will propose changing those same criteria, to ensure that Netflix does not enter the Oscars race again. Spielberg insists that made-for-streaming films are fundamentally different and that they can make the cut for an Emmy, but not the Oscars.
Which is why it was a bit surprising to discover just how much Triple Frontier, Netflix’s big release of the month, resembles the enemy — a slick, well-shot, made-to-order Hollywood blockbuster, not one line of which proves particularly memorable. Hollywood junk food, in short. Directed by JC Chandor (Margin Call, All is Lost), the 125-minute film is packed to the gills with A-listers: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac and Charlie Hunnam lead the way, with Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal (Narcos, Game of Thrones) in supporting roles.
The premise is fairly straightforward: A bunch of disillusioned military veterans decides to hunt down a feared Brazilian drug lord, not for the greater good but for the $75 million he has stashed in his safe house. The members of the team, led by Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Isaac) and Tom “Redfly” Garcia (Affleck), are, to various degrees, nursing grudges against the system which failed to look out for them financially and emotionally. The decision to go rogue is motivated as much by pent-up rage as it is by the opportunity to earn a packet. So far so Expendables, right?
And that is hardly the only way Triple Frontier seems to embrace Hollywood action tropes. Just like the first Expendables movie, our heroes here, too, are provided critical intelligence by a young, attractive Latina woman who also functions as a paint-by-numbers romantic interest for one of the mercenaries (Stallone there, Isaac here). There are dull homilies delivered (by Hunnam, who tries really hard, as always) about duty and doing the right thing for your family and “knowing what you signed up for” apropos military service. And I am not a hundred per cent on this, but Chandor and his fellow scriptwriter Mark Boal may have inserted in-jokes about Isaac’s celebrity status as a Star Wars protagonist (his name here is Pope, which is pretty close to Poe, his Star Wars character. Also, the very first time we see him here, he is nodding off inside a military aircraft; Poe is a celebrated X-wing fighter pilot).
Basically, it’s old wine in a new bottle. Which isn’t to say that the film does not achieve the aims of your summer Hollywood thrill-a-minute blockbuster — after a somewhat sluggish first 30 minutes or so, it does precisely that. The core set-pieces are action-packed, taut and unpredictable. Chandor is a master at big, beautiful, ominous outdoor shoots (his second film All is Lost had almost no dialogue and just one actor, Robert Redford, playing a man lost at sea) and Pascal, in particular, plays comic relief effectively. Also, the plot takes an interesting turn just before the halfway mark.
Chandor is, by any standards, a first-rate director, the latest among a group of talented indie filmmakers helming big flashy action thrillers (Ryan Coogler with Black Panther, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck with Captain Marvel). But he seems to be caught in between two worlds here. Half of Triple Frontier seems to gently parody the other half, the one that remains beholden to the all-American Hollywood agenda of invading beautiful rainforests, fighting off bad hombres, killing the bad guy and looking spiffy while doing it. That our heroes’ aims are purely financial is, circa 2019, understandable rather than morally grey — Chandor himself is, through Margin Call, a key chronicler of the 2006-7 Wall Street Crash, and the ethically dubious behaviour of the one per cent that led to it. The big bad employers just happen to be the American government, in their case.
Which is a bit of a sha