Two books came to mind during Triple Frontier, J.C. Chandor’s new Netflix movie: T.C. Boyle’s 1984 novel Budding Prospects, and In Search Of Captain Zero, Allan Weisbecker’s memoir about life in the drug smuggling business — all tales of people who took big risks on illegal scores and watched them spiral out of control. Heist movies usually consist of equal parts Rube-Goldberg machine and competence porn (who doesn’t love a planning montage?), but more often than not, well-laid plans go to shit.
Triple Frontier is that other kind, about when the plan goes sideways, offering both the vicarious thrill of gambling on an illegal payday and the kind of relief that comes from waking up from a dream where you really screwed up. In the same way, you watch Triple Frontier glad to be on your couch.
For as much as I’ve seen Ben Affleck’s weirdly photoshopped head staring back at me from posters all around Los Angeles lately (thankfully, not his back tattoo), Triple Frontier is particularly strong on production value. The second scene is a big action set piece, starring Oscar Isaac as an ex-special forces troop named “Pope,” who’s working with Mexican police to take down a drug house. Chandor (Margin Call, A Most Violent Year) is skilled at the lost art of action staging, creating a clear sense of spatial geography even as the squibs pop and the broken glass flies.
Pope has an informant, a beautiful lady informant, played by Adria Arjona, the only woman in the film, who puts Pope onto a big score: a drug lord living deep in the Brazilian jungle whose “house is the safe.” Triple Frontier takes its title from the Tres Fronteras region near the borders of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, though sharp-eyed viewers might notice that a lot of it was filmed at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu, as seen in Lost and parts of Jurassic Park.