When critics write about action movies, many forget to mention that actors and acting are involved. The difference between a Jean Claude Van Damme movie and a Bruce Willis movie isn’t just the budget. No disrespect to a man who can do the splits, but JCVD characters feel like loose sketches compared to Bruce Willis’s vivid caricatures (and Christian Bale’s photorealistic paintings). This is essentially why Ben Affleck has a career: He plays one-note characters, like Batman or Matt Damon’s buddy from Harvard, that somehow feel real. In Netflix’s new military heist movie —Triple Frontier — Affleck is at his Affleckiest, mumbling and portraying emotion largely through shoulder hunches. And it’s a good thing. Triple Frontier is like Argo meets Three Kings, both affecting and thrilling.
Spoiling Triple Frontier would be difficult because the first 20 minutes are extremely hard to follow. Again, this is a good thing. They are fun to watch and they get the audience into the flow, which is more meaningful here than the plot. This movie is about five military guys — Pedro Pascal, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Ben Affleck — who all, for various reasons, are trying to steal some dirty money from some very bad hombres in South America. (“Triple Frontier” is a real place in real life where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all intersect, which is, very vaguely, where most of the action of the movie takes place.)
Let’s not worry about why they’re doing this and instead focus on the fact that they have a good reason. Did you like Zero Dark Thirty? Did you find it hard to follow? Same deal here. This is a Mark Boal joint and so the military details are spot on and the filmmaking is impressionistic. Also, there’s always a point: Triple Frontier slyly criticizes American military involvement in Central American countries. But also it’s just fun to watch. DEA agents might enjoy this thing.
On some level, you could call this a Ben Affleck movie, but at certain times it feels like an Oscar Isaac movie, too. Then again, the opening monologue from Charlie Hunnam about trying to destroy a guy in the grocery store because the other guy didn’t move his shopping cart is pretty fucking relatable, too. Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones, Narco) and Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Inside Llewyn Davis) are, as you would assume, cool as fuck and vulnerable as hell. That’s what they do for a living. (It’s also nice that the people speaking Spanish in the movie actually speak Spanish and don’t sound absurd.)
This is a heist movie, but The Italian Job it is not. Things go wrong. Oscar Isaac and Ben Affleck bicker about a donkey. Not everyone makes it back to split the money. At various points in the flick, shit gets very, very real. All of these elements working together — thrilling stakes, convincing characters, great pacing — are why we watch action movies in the first place. In this way, Triple Frontier is the action movie that all the Expendables movies wanted to be, but never could. And that’s because in this movie, Affleck, along with some help from his boys, can do something good action movies rarely do well: It just might make you cry a little. Or failing that, have some actual feelings.
Either way, even if their lives are totally fucked up, by the time it’s all over you’ll already miss hanging out with all of these dudes. They’re great. Especially Affleck.
Pedro Pascal, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Ben Affleck star in Triple Frontier, on Netflix on March 13.