I can appreciate the old-timey charm of “The Sting,” the wit and absolute hilarity of “Snatch” and even the sub-par jokes in “Tower Heist.” That said, there is secret sauce to any heist movie, an imperative ingredient without which the plotline will inevitably fall flat. So, what makes a heist movie solid? It isn’t really about the heist at all. It’s about the characters. Unfortunately, “Triple Frontier” doesn’t follow this golden rule from the heist handbook. Though stacked with a star-studded cast and a potentially-intriguing storyline, Netflix’s latest release only manages to offer guns, brawny men, money and more guns, failing to include any relationship development, humor or substantial flavor.
The film begins in classic-heist fashion, with a group of ex-Special Forces operatives reuniting with the shared motive of filling their wallets. Leader of the pack Santiago (Oscar Isaac, “Ex Machina”) reveals his intentions to rob a high-profile, South American cocaine lord, Lorena, who is known to be swimming in money. Though not without coaxing, Santiago manages to convince former operatives and friends to put their honored reputations as war heroes on the line and embark on the ultimate heist, for a shot at the massive jackpot. However, Santiago and company quickly find themselves in for more than they bargained for, when their swift plan to get the money, take out Lorena and split goes awry. In short, the men soon find themselves on a nightmarishly long journey across South America, racking up a troubling body count and falling under the dangerous spell of greed.
In order to care about an elaborate plan to finesse the system and finagle millions of dollars, we first have to care about who is doing the finessing and finagling. While the film is chalk full of talented actors like Ben Affleck (“Justice League”), Charlie Hunnam (“A Million Little Pieces”) and Pedro Pascal (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), through such weak dialogue and little to no background, there is no real inclination to invest in these men or their operation. The link between the five men behind the heist is clear: They are all buddies from their back-in-the-day military careers. But the existence of this link alone isn’t enough to convince us of the emotions and friendship between the characters. Aside from scenes of them shooting or being shot at, the only other interactions between the men revolve around drinking or having dull conversations. Though the film’s use of five central characters has opportunity for development, (i.e. establishing one member of the gang as the funny one, another as the cynic and so on) by not taking the time to thoroughly distinguish each character’s personality, they become interchangeable and awkwardly all morph into one.
Along with its overall lack of life-blood, the film’s portrayal of gender and masculinity is frustrating. The level of testosterone in “Triple Frontier” is so high that it practically radiates through the screen. Yes, guns and dollar-bills are quintessential staples in any heist flick, but that doesn’t mean either should be treated with the same importance as the characters themselves. The very fact that filmmakers include entire scenes of money being burned or dramatically flying in the wind, but cannot manage to create semi-entertaining character conversations or connections, is undeniably problematic.
Further, throughout the film there are quips about Santiago’s informant Yovanna (Adria Arjona “Pacific Rim: Uprising”), a beautiful woman in need of his help rescuing her brother from police captivity. Without fail, the other men consistently bring up Santiago’s “girlfriend,” boyishly aiming to tease him (and successfully irritating us). The film’s reiteration of Yovanna’s looks and hints at an underlying chemistry between her and Santiago, despite her minimal screen time and lines, is a tired and weak attempt to slap a side-story onto the already poor main plotline. Quite simply, we needed more from the film, but a poorly constructed romance wasn’t it.
“Triple Frontier” was not doomed from the start. The film could have adhered both to genre conventions like money, weapons and long-lost friendships, while still crafting an element of originality through fun character personas. But instead, it relies entirely on the former and does nothing to create the latter. By not fully utilizing its talented cast and focusing too heavily on the heist framework, the movie loses itself and its viewers.