Movies have always loved the military. The elements that we instantly connect to the military, such as bravery, loyalty, brotherhood, heroism, selflessness, dedication, strength and courage, are ideal fodder for the Hollywood fantasy. And even though superhero movies have recently taken the lead in the heroism department, cinematically speaking, movies will always welcome military stories and characters. They are the most recognizable and often the most fallible of our heroes, which makes them the most realistic, the most human—and, because of that, the easiest to root for. If I asked you to stop and try to think of movies about the military or featuring military or ex-military as main characters, I guarantee you’d be busy for a while.
I bring this up because the fact that the main characters in the new Netflix original film, Triple Frontier, are all ex-military is a key element of the movie. It’s about 5 former American Special Forces operatives who reunite for one more mission, which is as about as pre-written and as familiar a concept as a moviegoer could see. And while Triple Frontier certainly doesn’t shy away from any of your preconceived notions, it also, thankfully, doesn’t linger in them either. Directed by J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year) and written by Chandor and Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), Triple Frontier stars Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Pedro Pascal, Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund as former members of an unidentified elite military strike team (SEALs? Special Forces?) who come back together when Isaac’s character enlists them to go after a brutal Mexican drug lord who happens to be sitting on a pile of cash. Boal has made a living creating characters with sometimes murky motivations, and the various forces that drive each of these characters to agree to the mission are not always clear or sensical, but it is impressive how quickly we get to know these characters in a short amount of time. It’s clear Chandor and Boal do not want to linger in exposition for too long. Nothing lingers too long in this movie, maybe because if you were given too much time to think about what’s going on, you’d realize how ludicrous some of it really is.
But, no matter what, Triple Frontier is a fast-paced testosterone-fest which more than once feels like a video game come to life. If a guy skulking through houses or the jungle carrying a military-style weapon looking for bad guys is your idea of sexy, then this movie is your ultimate Netflix-and-chill. My goodness, I could feel hair growing on my chest just watching this movie. But don’t get me wrong, I have seen movies that have machismo coming out of their pores that make me roll my eyes and walk away. For some reason, Triple Frontier’s militarized masculinity works—in the way old Westerns worked. The guns and the military tactics, language and accessories eventually become just part of the costume. Because Chandor cast 5 actors who know how to avoid the pitfalls of cliché (for the most part), this movie never devolves into a Rambo-like joke and instead actually melds character with action in a compelling way.
That being said, there were a few moments that made me wonder if I’m actually supposed to buy this, but because the performances are so understated (no Mark Wahlberg posturing here), Triple Frontier is recommended viewing if you are looking for a slick action movie that has a little more than meets the eye.