Triple Frontier is the first Netflix film that feels made for the big screen. While most movies in the Netflix catalog seem destined to languish in the purgatory of made-for-TV and low-budget films, this J.C. Chandor directed thriller appears different. Featuring an ensemble cast, large-scale set pieces, and a reputable filmmaking pedigree, Triple Frontier has all of the ingredients of a wide theatrical release experience. But having the ingredients and using them to cook up a high-quality movie are two entirely different things. And Chandor, along with writing partner Mark Boal, struggles a bit in the kitchen with this film.
It is almost impossible to begin a conversation about Triple Frontier without first discussing the cast. It is the first thing most viewers probably noticed about the movie even during the marketing phase. For Netflix to release a movie with a lineup consisting of Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund is unprecedented. The star power alone immediately lends itself to the idea that this is not a normal Netflix movie and thus has the chance to escape from the aforementioned average movie purgatory. To their credit, the actors come across as a true team in the sense that there doesn’t appear to be any pecking order of star power and no real lead performance. If a lead needed to be identified, it would probably go to Oscar Isaac, but purely from the perspective that his character serves as the driving force behind the mission. Their performances are maximized within the confines of the script they are given, but none are able to overcome the lack of development that renders each as a shallow, soldier of fortune retread found in many similar films.
Perhaps subverting expectations to a degree, Triple Frontier is less an action movie and more a combination heist and thriller. More of the Tom Clancy variety than, say, Sicario though. The action scenes are used sparingly and with the precision of a military surgical strike. This leaves a significant portion of the two-hour runtime to be filled with something other than gunfire and explosions. Which is what makes the lack of character development all the more head-scratching. We learn almost all we will ever learn about each character before the heist takes place. While there are conflicts and stumbling blocks post-heist, these moments are never used to deepen our understanding of the characters. Rather they are simply used to try to add some tension and suspense to an otherwise straightforward story. This is especially infuriating since the primary source of conflict in the movie isn’t good guys versus bad guys. It is the good guys versus their own stupidity — which is often fueled by greed. Instead of using this to examine our team’s descent from an elite squad of soldiers with unparalleled skills and discipline into a group of guys making a series of foolish mistakes, we instead get, well, a series of foolish mistakes designed to keep the plot interesting. It is a missed opportunity that could have moved the story in a more character-driven direction as opposed to a generic heist and getaway scenario.
Despite leaving a lot on the table, Triple Frontier is still a cut above most of its Netflix predecessors. The directing is of a caliber seldom seen from Netflix original films and the cast is easily the most star power to date for the streaming film studio. It lacks the tautness of an edge-of-your-seat thriller. A stronger second and third act could have kept it from feeling like it is on cruise control. It is a slight misfire but doesn’t totally miss its target. It is an entertaining film that will keep your attention while watching from the comfort of your couch.