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‘Triple Frontier’: Surprises around every corner as Special Ops vets try a heist

Pedro Pascal (from left), Garrett Hedlund, Charlie Hunnam and Ben Affleck in "Triple Frontier."

Pedro Pascal (from left), Garrett Hedlund, Charlie Hunnam and Ben Affleck in "Triple Frontier." | Netflix

“You cannot go back to a normal life after tonight. Make no mistake about it: What we are about to do is criminal. We do not have the flag on our shoulders, and no amount of bull—- we tell ourselves is going to change that.” — Ben Affleck’s Tom “Redfly” Davis addressing his fellow former American soldiers before they embark on a life-changing mission in a foreign land.



Meet the team.

Oscar Isaac is Santiago “The Pope” Garcia.

Ben Affleck is Tom “Redfly” Davis.

Charlie Hunnam is William “Ironhead” Miller.

Garrett Hedlund is William’s brother, Ben.

Pedro Pascal is Francisco “Catfish” Morales.

All former elite soldiers, all down on their luck and in need of a fast and fat payday, not to mention a renewed sense of self-worth. So they’re back together again, on a potentially lucrative but also possibly life-threatening mission in South America.

They’re kinda like the Expendables, only a generation younger and VERY handsome.

And they’re in much grittier, much more hardcore material, thanks to the no-nonsense, tension-building directing style of J.C. Chandor (“All Is Lost,” “A Most Violent Year”) and the barbed-wire-sharp script from Chandor and the great journalist turned screenwriter Mark Boal of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” fame.

Playing exclusively in theaters for a week before streaming on Netflix beginning March 13, “Triple Frontier” is a tough, rain-soaked, blood-spattered, well-spun soldier-of-fortune heist thriller with uniformly strong performances from that outstanding cast and some expertly choreographed, hold-your-breath action sequences.

This is the kind of movie where we’re pretty much expecting to hear Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle” when the team arrives in the jungle — and we’re not disappointed.

When Oscar Isaac’s Santiago reconnects with his former Special Ops buddies in the hopes they’ll join him on a high-paying, off-the-grid, probably not entirely legal civilian operation in South America, he finds each of them struggling to survive in their post-military lives.

Ben Affleck’s Tom is a divorced dad selling cheap condos; Pedro Pascal’s Francisco is a new father who has been busted on a drug charge, and Charlie Hunnam’s William is managing his brother Ben (Garrett Hedlund), who is getting his brains beat out as a journeyman fighter on the MMA circuit.

Nobody cares about the sacrifices these men made while in uniform. Heck, nobody even knows about their heroics.

And they certainly didn’t become rich off their service.
 “You’ve been shot five times for your country and you can’t afford a new truck,” Santiago reminds Tom.
 They all need cash. They all feel lost and insignificant.

So yeah, they’ll join Santiago on a mission that will take them into “La Triple Frontera,” the border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where the Iguaza and Parana rivers converge.

The game plan evolves almost by the hour, but the general idea is to take out a South American drug lord and make off with the piles of cash supposedly stashed in his home. They schedule the mission to take place while the drug lord’s family is at church — but if for any reason they’re NOT at church and at home, they’ll abort the plan. These guys are no longer military, but they still have a code and they’re hoping to stick to it.

Suffice to say that code will be tested, as will the bonds between these men when they’re faced with challenges even they could not have foreseen at the outset of the mission. The screenplay is filled with well-thrown curveballs that keep us off-balance and take the journey into unexpected and sometimes shockingly violent detours.

At times it appears as if they’re going to pull off the heist and make it back to the States with mountains of money; on other occasions, it seems as if greed might do them in. We also wonder if Santiago’s intimate connection to his inside source, Yovanna (Adria Arjona), could compromise the mission.

With Hawaii standing in for the Triple Frontier, this is a visually stunning film, whether we’re in the jungle or the mountains or a helicopter in danger of crashing due to the aggregate weight of the men onboard and the massive bundles of cash tethered to the chopper.

Ben Affleck delivers a resonant performance as Tom, who was a bona fide hero as a soldier but now finds himself ineffectual and nearly invisible as a civilian with a nowhere job, a shattered marriage and a 15-year-old daughter who loves him but can’t disguise her disappointment in him.

Oscar Isaac is his usual electric presence as the badass Santiago. And though Hunnam, Hedlund and Pascal don’t get as many showcase opportunities as Affleck and Isaac, their contributions are invaluable — especially down the home stretch, when all five main characters face one major crisis after another, and true colors are revealed.

From the direction to the script to the production elements to the performances, “Triple Frontier” is a first-class ride.

‘Triple Frontier’

1⁄2

Netflix presents a film directed by J.C. Chandor and written by Chandor and Mark Boal. Rated R (for violence and language throughout). Running time: 125 minutes. Opens Wednesday at iPic South Barrington and debuts March 13 on Netflix.