Triple Frontier, out on Netflix March 13, sounds like the set-up for a joke: How many special force agents does it take to transport hundreds of bags of cash through the South American rainforest?
On paper, Triple Frontier reads like the ultimate heist movie. A group of highly skilled veterans (played by famous actors, in this case Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal and Ben Affleck) band together to carry out an ambitious money grab. Sure, they’re robbers — but they’re the good guys. The mission begins after Santiago "Pope" Garcia (Isaac) discovers the location of a rich drug baron, Gabriel Martin Lorea (Reynaldo Gallegos). Allegedly, Lorea keeps $75 million in cash in his remote house.
But when it comes to the robbery's actual execution, Triple Frontier movie veers away from the pattern developed through its genre ancestors. Namely, it does away with a triumphant ending.
Typically, the originator of the Wild Idea — in this case, Pope – convinces his team of operatives to join him on a well thought-out plan. That's not how it goes down in Triple Frontier. The details of the robbery are essentially worked out over the course of a single car ride. So, no wonder things go awry so quickly. Pope's scheme was doomed to fail from the beginning.
But did it have to be such a fail? Pope had the right instincts in choosing these former colleagues, all of them with vast experience in the field — and enough pent-up anger from years languishing as civilians to want to apply those skills. When we first meet William "Ironhead" Miller (Hunnam), he's giving a speech to newly returned soldiers cautioning them not to work for security contractors; his life is dull and monotonous. His brother, Ben (Hedlund), is toiling as an MMA fighter.
But the Millers are doing pretty well, compared to the other two recruits. Francisco "Catfish" Morales (Pascal) is a pilot whose license has been suspended following a cocaine bust. He's worried about how he'll care for his infant son. Finally, Tom "Redfly" Davis ( Affleck), once a hero in the field, can hardly support his children.
Pope appeals to their collective stasis and need for cash. Plus, he claims to know what he's doing. He knows the landscape intimately: He'd spent the last few years working with local police in the unnamed South American country to bust cartels. His informant, Yovanna (Adria Arjona), tipped him with Lorea’s location. Lorea, Pope argues, is responsible for the country's ills, and deserves to be assassinated. The men are convinced by his half-baked plan.
A week later, the khaki-clad Americans board a plane for an unspecified South American country, cross a border and head to the cartel leader's house in the Brazilian rainforest. They have a 40-minute window to kill Lorea and rob the house while his family is at church.
On the bright side, one of the group’s goals is accomplished: The men assassinate Lorea, who had been hiding in a safe. Next, to their surprise, the house's walls are stuffed with tons of cash. Here's where they get greedy — and where the trouble starts. The house has way more money than they had budgeted for. Instead of grabbing the amount of bags that can fit and leaving, Redfly disregards his 40-minute "hard out" and keeps loading up the car. In total, they grab $250 million. That huge sum belonged to multiple drug lords; clearly, Lorea was just one in a crowded landscape. It would be naive to assume Lorea’s death would solve the country’s problems, as Pope had insinuated.
But Redfly’s obsession (he keeps uttering “Are we really going to leave the money here?”) leads to their downfall. Guards are killed; Ironhead is shot. As Ben points out, it’s a mess. And it gets messier from there.
Throughout the ordeal, Redfly insists on keeping all of the money, even when the unwieldy bags become a liability. Redfly loads up the helicopter with all the cash, though Fish warns there's no way a chopper that heavy will make it over the Andes' high peaks. For some reason, Redfly is undaunted by the prospect of a crash and trekking through the mountains on foot — which is what ends up happening.
The helicopter crash-lands in a field, ruining farmers' crops. Naturally, the farmers are upset by Pope’s team. So Redfly decides to shoot them, upping the body count of their misguided mission. Is Triple Frontier a meditation on the ills of greed? Of untreated anger issues? A cautionary tale warning people not to try their own heists?
The men don’t have time to debate anything as meta as that — the mission must continue. They pay $1 million in reparations to the farmers' families, grab some mules, and hit the smugglers' path. But one of the villagers has been stalking them, and he shoots and kills Redfly. Only then do the survivors dump the money and take only what fits in their backpack, which isn't much. They make it to the ocean and escape on a boat.
When all is said and done, the gang manage to keep $5 million. That comes down to about $1 million each. A respectable sum, but not nearly as much as they had intended. They each decide to donate their share to Redfly's family — especially since paying for his teenage daughter's college had been such a priority for him.
At the end of the journey, the four remaining men separate to their lives. Likely, all will dream of the cash scattered somewhere on the triple border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.
But only one of them might actually go and retrieve the lost money. Initially, Pope planned to meet up with informant Yovanna in Australia, where he's sent her to escape the cartel. Then, Ironhead shares the coordinates to where the bags were dropped. Will Pope be able to resist the lure of one last mission? We have a feeling that he didn’t learn from this experience. If anything, it’ll gnaw at him until he goes back.
Triple Frontier ends ambiguously, but it certainly leaves room for a sequel. And maybe, just maybe, we're in charge of the sequel. Is Netflix luring us to the Brazilian rainforest to complete the mission? Will the first person to take the bags win? Do report back.