Warning: This post contains spoilers for Netflix’s Triple Frontier.
Back in March, Ben Affleck’s phoenix tattoo and its co-stars, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, and Charlie Hunnam, were caught frolicking on a beach on the Hawaiian set of Triple Frontier.
The pictures caused an internet uproar, in the way that only sneaky shots of baes playfully wrestling in bathing suits can. And though we eventually moved on from that iconic shot of Ben Affleck examining his soul while staring out at the horizon, and the sad irony of its existence alongside this lovely tableau of Hedlund and Hunnam climbing each other’s golden, deific bodies, it was with the expectation that we would one day reunite. You know, when the actual movie came out.
But here’s the thing: There are no back tattoos in Triple Frontier, nor do any of our strapping (virile?) heroes strip for some fun amid the waves. And while Affleck’s character arc does require a lot of broody introspection, his shirt stays on and tucked snugly into belted pleated Dockers.
Instead, J.C. Chandor’s Netflix film, executive produced by the team behind The Hurt Locker, (which is enjoying a week’s theatrical release before it streams on March 13) focuses on the struggles of a group of Special Forces veterans who feel like they’ve been short-changed. After nearly 20 years of dedicated service — literally putting their lives on the line for a country they love — they still can’t pay their bills or send their kids to college. Tom “Redfly” David (Affleck), a former captain who was shot five times on active duty, is trying (and failing) to sell sad condos with sweeping views of dumpsters. William “Ironhead” Miller (Hunnam) tours the country giving patriotic speeches to soldiers; his brother, Benny (Garrett Hedlund, in a casting choice so perfect I’m amazed nature didn’t think of it first), makes small change as an amateur MMA fighter. Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Pedro Pascal) is an ace pilot who’s been grounded on a drug charge. They’ve served their purpose, and now they’ve been left behind to pick up the pieces.
While working as a military consultant in South America, Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Isaac) comes up with a plan to tip the scales. He’ll bring the gang back together again for one last mission, only this time, they’ll be fighting for their own gain, rather than for their country. Their target? A cartel leader hiding out in a safehouse in the middle of the Brazilian jungle. (I think — this movie is not big on specific locations.) The payout? Upwards of $75 million dollars, split five ways.
This is a traditional heist movie, with a soupcon of Narcos, wrapped around some very serious, real-world issues. In fact, the film vacillates between buddy humor (like Oscar Isaac running around asking everyone if they got his text about murdering a cartel leader — maybe not something you want to put in writing), and deeply painful musings about the nature of military service, and the psychological and physical toll it leaves behind.
So, really, one might say the beach pics get at the essence of this film. At its core, Triple Frontier is a movie about the strong bond between men even as they grapple with the consequences of their manly manliness. And what could possibly reflect that better than Oscar Isaac laughing as Charlie Hunnam holds a snorkeling mask, while, a few feet down the surf, Ben Affleck, wrapped snugly in a blue towel comes to the realization that time is a flat circle, and we’re all on a slow march towards death? Ah, to be a man!
Lest you be too disappointed, there is a beach scene in the movie — just not the one we expected. It comes at the very end, when our boys are being chased by some armed teenagers hired by cartel members to get their money back. They’ve been walking for days, hauling at least a hundred heavy bags filled with cash across the snow-capped Andes, and they’re tired, sad (I won’t say why), and just want to get to the damned ocean so they can go home. The beach calls to them, a beacon of freedom singing a siren song of playful wrestling matches past. (Or, maybe I was just projecting.) This is their chance to fulfill the prophecy of the viral beach pics!
But then they jump into an awaiting boat and sail off, dashing all my dreams of sunny bro bonding. To paraphrase another stoic man, we’ll always have Hawaii.