Ben Affleck, Oscar Issac and Charlie Hunnam star in this affecting robbery tale

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A heist goes magnificently awry, as heists so very often do, in "Triple Frontier," a solid action thriller about a group of men whose morals and loyalties are pushed to the brink. 

Oscar Isaac is Santiago 'Pope' Garcia, an ex-military man who's got a line on a major score in Brazil. He enlists a handful of former Special Forces operatives — Tom 'Redfly' Davis (Ben Affleck), Francisco 'Catfish' Morales (Pedro Pascal), William 'Ironhead' Miller (Charlie Hunnam) and Miller's brother Ben (Garrett Hedlund) — to head down to the jungle and take down a South American drug lord, who is stashing millions in the walls of his home.

Pope tricks them by telling them they're just going down for reconnaissance work. But he doesn't have to twist their arms very hard to get them to buy into the job. 

Back home, things aren't going so great for the men. In the military, they were elite warriors, highly trained and highly skilled, but they returned home to lives where they've been cast aside. Redfly is a struggling real estate agent and recent divorcee, Catfish is facing a coke rap, Ironhead gives motivational speeches to soldiers who are re-entering civilian life. So the prospect of a one-time cash haul is pretty sweet.

Director J.C. Chandor ("A Most Violent Year"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar winner Mark Boal ("Zero Dark Thirty"), sets up the heist as a last-ditch effort for the group. They know what's at stake and they know they're going against the principles they were taught to uphold. But they also know their fate is in their own hands and no one is stepping up to save them.  

They wind up with more money than any of them could ever imagine, but the actual weight of the loot — the physical heaviness of it matches its metaphorical heft — causes them a whole heap of problems. Trying to airlift the cash out of the country via helicopter, they crash into the jungle. As their survival skills are put to the test, their loyalties begin to shift and blame is passed around while they try to hang on to their cash and get out of the country alive.  

"Triple Frontier" resembles Sam Raimi's "A Simple Plan" in the way that greed becomes the villain in the story and the undoing of the guys' scheme. The actors, particularly Affleck, do an excellent job of conveying the quiet desperation of their characters; Affleck wears sadness and resignation incredibly well, almost too well.  

Hunnam, who between "The Lost City of Z" and "Papillon" seems to be choosing jobs depending on how physically grueling they are, earns another notch on his belt for this one. (Can someone sign this guy up for a romantic comedy already?) 

It would be easy for Chandor and Boal to take "Triple Frontier" down an obvious path, but the direction they choose is more complex, morally damning, and affecting. "Triple Frontier" is a smart heist movie with a conscience and a soul. 

'Triple Frontier'

GRADE: B+

Rated R:  for violence and language throughout

Running time: 125 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

 

   

 

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