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If you are looking for a good, standard action-thriller to put into your Netflix queue, Triple Frontier is a safe bet. Maybe it’s too safe, in fact, but regardless, after a one-week theatrical release, the movie is now available for streaming.

The latest from the streaming giant sends the likes of Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal and Charlie Hunnam into the jungle to rob a South American drug lord’s house of millions of dollars.

Former special-forces operative Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Isaac) has become bored to death as a military adviser to police making drug busts. During a particularly bloody mission, he overhears a captured dealer divulge the location of a drug lord’s personal home, where he keeps all of his money. Pope gets to thinking and then calls upon some of his former Special Ops buds to pay the kingpin a house call and relieve him of some of his dirty money. The catch: The mission will be off the books, of course, and totally illegal.

After years of military service with nothing to show for it, Pope and his buddies Redfly (Affleck), Ironhead (Hunnam), Ben (Hedlund) and Catfish (Pascal) are looking for a little payback. Tom “Redfly” Davis is the most reluctant at first, but a divorce and child-support payments prompt him to eventually go all-in.

The first stage of the mission has the men attempting what is supposed to be a quick, easy theft of the money while most of the family is at church, and the drug lord is left behind. This gives director J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All Is Lost) an opportunity to present an effectively chilling heist inside a jungle mansion. Of course, things don’t exactly go according to plan.

The next stage has the boys getting into some skirmishes in the jungle and in a small village; again, things aren’t going as easily as Pope proposed in his initial plans. The third stage has the men moving hundreds of pounds of money toward and eventually through the Andes—first on mules and then on their backs, as they try their darndest to salvage the mission’s booty.

All three stages are well-done, although there are not many surprises. Triple Frontier doesn’t rack up points for originality, but it does score with the casting, with all five main leads making solid contributions. They are all good enough to distract you from the fact that the movie itself is almost completely devoid of originality.

That’s OK. Sometimes a great cast and some decent firefights are all you need to quench your action-thriller thirst; in that sense, Triple Frontier hits the marks.

Also, it’s fun to watch this movie if you pretend that Affleck’s character is actually a retired Batman who has come upon hard financial times and is forced to sell condos for a living. I admit that this notion was playing in my head, especially in the moments when Redfly (That could be a bat’s nickname!) gets all dark and brooding.

Of the performances, Isaac’s is the most memorable—no big surprise, considering he’s easily the best actor in the bunch. Pascal is good as the down-on-his-luck pilot who needs some scratch to offset the legal cost of his latest blunder. Hedlund offers some decent comic relief as the angriest and most impatient of the group.

The movie does boast one sequence—a helicopter flight over mountains that is in danger of crashing due the large quantity of cash dangling from its bottom—that is a truly original moment. Otherwise, Triple Frontier is the sort of film like the ones Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger used to turn out. While that’s not high praise, it’s hardly a condemnation. There’s a time and a place for a good junk-food movie—and Netflix knows it.

Triple Frontier is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in Reviews

The cast and crew do admirable work in A Most Violent Year, but the script and pacing make the movie a near-miss.

Considering the talent on hand, that’s a shame.

The film is a shining example of art direction, and it boasts a firecracker cast with the likes of Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks and Jessica Chastain. It’s set in New York in 1981, and the look of the city is perfect. (I lived a half-hour outside of Manhattan at the time, so I know.) If only the storytelling had been done better.

Writer-director J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost) takes a slow-burn look at the life of Abel Morales (Isaac), a fuel-company owner trying to grow bigger in the face of lawsuits and constant criminal attacks on his drivers. The film opens with one particular driver (Elyes Gabel) getting hijacked outside of a New York City tollbooth; he suffers through a vicious beating. His story becomes one of the threads that run throughout the movie.

Meanwhile, an assistant district attorney (David Oyelowo) has informed him of impending charges that will threaten the life of his company. This puts Abel’s wife, Anna (Chastain), on edge: She’s the one keeping the books, and she claims everything is on the level. Abel’s business associate Andrew (Brooks) fears for the company’s business future while advocating that, perhaps, their drivers should arm themselves against attackers.

The plot seems to be going somewhere at first, but it never really does. Chandor gives his film the look of an early Coppola production (that toll-booth scene echoes Sonny’s execution in The Godfather), but a lack of depth, and inexplicable behavior by some characters, doom the film.

There are moments in the movie that, while dramatically impactful, don’t make sense. An example: When Anna puts three slugs in an injured deer, she fails to tell her husband before firing the shots. She just walks up right next to him, a few feet away, and fires a gun into the injured animal. This sort of thing would give a somebody a heart attack. Yes, Anna is a tough hombre, but this particular action seems far-fetched in a movie that’s supposed to be grounded in realism. Year has a bunch of moments like this. Meanwhile, Brooks’ character is present in the film for no apparent reason. His Andrew winds up providing little along the lines of plot development.

Much of this movie focuses on Isaac, talking really slowly, sitting at tables and trying to work out details for loans. It gets tedious. Isaac almost always fascinating, in any role, but he can’t save the movie.

It’s appropriate that a substantial aspect of A Most Violent Year involves the robbing of fuel trucks, because the movie is full of talented performers who have been robbed in the last few years. Isaac should’ve been Oscar-nominated for his performance in Inside Llewyn Davis, and his Year co-star Brooks was unbelievably passed over for Drive (also which happened to co-star Isaac). Oyelowo was perhaps this year’s biggest Oscar snub after he failed to garner a nod for his remarkable work in Selma. Chastain is the only one who has actually gotten Oscar nods in recent years (Zero Dark Thirty and The Help.)

I’ve watched the film twice, and it stands up even more poorly during a second viewing. Despite how real it looks, with some credible moments and performances, the film is dull and implausible.

You can do a lot worse than watching Isaac, Brooks and Chastain performing together. But that doesn’t make A Most Violent Year worth your time.

A Most Violent Year is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

In All Is Lost, a movie that features almost no dialogue, Robert Redford delivers some of his best work ever as a man trying to survive a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean.

While sleeping in his yacht, Redford’s character (simply called “Our Man” in the credits) is abruptly awakened by a floating cargo bin crashing into his boat’s side. What follows is more than 100 minutes of Redford’s character solving problems and fighting to stay alive.

Much credit goes to the legendary actor, as well as relative newbie writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), for making this compelling from start to finish. You’ll be surprised by how gripping the sight of a man simply trying to repair his boat can be.

Redford looks like he put himself through the ringer, and the results are well worth it. His character gets no real back-story; other than one loud expletive, a couple of radio-transmission attempts, and some quick narration at the start, Redford’s character never speaks. There’s no need: Redford does it all with his face in a performance for which he will always be remembered.

In one of Oscar’s biggest shockers this year, Redford was passed over for a nomination (as was another big seafaring actor named Tom Hanks) for a Best Actor nomination. Redford deserved a nomination over Christian Bale (for American Hustle) and Bruce Dern (for Nebraska). I don’t know what else Redford could have done to get a nod. He’s only gotten one other Oscar nomination for acting, 40 years ago for The Sting. He absolutely deserved the accolade this year, and the snub is strange.

Special Features: A director’s commentary (without Redford) and some featurettes on the making of the movie. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In a movie that features almost no dialogue, Robert Redford delivers some of his best work ever as a man trying to survive a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean.

While sleeping in his yacht, Redford’s character (simply called “Our Man” in the All Is Lost credits) is abruptly awakened when a floating cargo bin crashes into his boat’s side. What follows is more than 100 minutes of Redford solving problems and fighting to stay alive.

Much credit goes to the legendary actor, as well as relative newbie writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) for making this compelling from start to finish. You’ll be surprised how gripping the sight of a man simply trying to repair his boat can be.

Redford looks like he put himself through the ringer in this one, and the results are well worth it. His character gets no real back-story; other than one loud expletive, a couple of radio-transmission attempts, and some quick narration at the beginning, we never really hear Redford’s voice. However, there’s no need; Redford does it all with his face in a performance for which he will always be remembered.

All Is Lost is playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); and Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews