[Early Review] Triple Frontier (2019)

Director: J.C. Chandor

Cast: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal, Adria Arjona

Screenplay: Mark Boal, J.C. Chandor

125 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

 

Triple Frontier seemed like a movie that was never going to get made. Cursed, almost. Over the past few years, I’d heard reports of all sorts of actors from Johnny Depp to Tom Hanks board the project and then back out. Some actors, like star Ben Affleck (Argo, Justice League) joined the film only to back out over scheduling conflict and then come back and join the cast once again later on. Kathryn Bigelow was set to direct but then left to direct Detroit. It seemed to wallow away in development hell until finally J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All is Lost) put all the pieces together, with a script from Mark Boal and Chandor, and delivered Triple Frontier, and it turned out to be an intense thought-provoking thrill ride.

Santiago (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) assembles a crew of his friends and ex-Special Forces members to steal from and assassinate a dangerous drug king in South America. When the heist takes a surprising turn and the escape plan changes, their loyalties to the mission and to each other are tested. They are forced to decide between risking their greed or their survival as obstacles mount all around them.

Triple Frontier’s tense screenplay works with the Hero’s Journey really nice, and Isaac’s Santiago, for better or worse, works his way toward a goal, and his decisions have consequences. Affleck’s Tom is a man who needs the money but knows what this kind of mission can do to him. The two play opposite sides of the coin and as their moralities change between them, they play great foils to one another.

Charlie Hunnam (A Million Little Pieces, TV’s Sons of Anarchy) plays William, a public speaker struggling with his mental state after what he’s witnessed. He takes on the job once he knows Tom is involved because he knows Tom’s clear head will prevail. His is a character of habits and little comforts who plays by the book.

Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, If Beale Street Could Talk) is Francisco, a hell of a pilot with a little drug problem. He wants to get in the air again and feel a sense of purpose. These four characters are written as people who don’t break the rules, but the circumstances of the plot and narrative fundamentally change their thought processes, and with that comes mistakes and a sense of moral ambiguity.

That being said, I felt like Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound, Burden) was wasted in this film. His character, William’s brother Ben, doesn’t have all that much to do. He isn’t given a compelling narrative and seemingly fills out the cast.

Triple Frontier has a vivid and gorgeous cinematic look to it. The cinematography is clean and colorful, the editing quick and tight, and the production design realistic. There’s some issues with the sound design in the film, though, and the music choices sometimes feel like a checklist for drug cartel movies, but the film’s most impressive aspect is its use of tension. There are a great many scenes where the wills and resilience of the crew are tested, and thanks to Chandor’s decision to stretch the tension from an already tense script work wonders here. I was pulling my hair wondering just how they were going to escape from several situations.

Triple Frontier hits Netflix screens on March 13th, but you can catch it in theaters before that, and I would suggest it. This is a tense morality play with some intense action, solid character development, and some genuinely shocking moments. I recommend seeing it immediately.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King, Emily Rios, Finn Wittrock

Screenplay: Barry Jenkins

119 mins. Rated R for language and some sexual content.

 

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, Medicine for Melancholy) carries a lot of clout based on his recent Best Picture win, and for his follow-up feature, he adapted James Baldwin’s classic novel If Beale Street Could Talk. I’ve had a copy of the book on my shelf for some time and have yet to reach for it (there are stacks of books to read in front of the bookshelf; I’m doubtful I could even reach it at the moment), but I’ve been aware of its important for a while now. I know the book is very important and personal to Jenkins, and the trailers have been magnificent, and so is the finished product.

The film is the story of Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James, Race, TV’s Homecoming) and their love story. Fonny has been incarcerated for the rape of Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios, Quinceanera, TV’s Snowfall), but Tish knows he’s innocent. She was with him that night, and she knows Fonny. There’s a cop, though, Officer Bell (Ed Skrein, Deadpool, The Transporter Refueled), who claims he saw Fonny flee the scene. Now, Tish is tasked with proving Fonny’s innocence while carrying his child, and her loving family is fighting for them.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a damn beautiful love story. It’s sweet and tender and, at times funny and heartbreaking. Kiki Layne shines as a standout in her first feature film, and Stephan James is incredible. He is able to say so much with his eyes. In fact, one of the most powerful elements of Jenkins’s film is his letting the camera focus on one person and just letting them breathe and feel. So much performance is gleaned from the moments of silence that the film allows. It’s a slow burn at times because of it, but I wouldn’t say I was ever bored by it.

The supporting cast is, to be fair, incredible. Colman Domingo (Lincoln, TV’s Fear the Walking Dead) and Regina King (Ray, TV’s American Crime) shine as Tish’s parents, and the film is littered with minor performances from talented actors. The wonderful Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s Atlanta) has maybe ten minutes of screen time but the message and strength of his supporting character gives so much during that time.

The other major strength of the film besides performance and the gorgeous cinematography is the score. Every time the sweeping music came into play, I felt the hair on my arms stand up. Its simplicity and repetition make for a memorable, sweet, and at times foreboding piece of music.

If I had a flaw with the film, it would purely be that its ending is left slightly open-ended. We don’t get resolution on some of our plot threads, but my wife put it quite well. She says that it’s because our characters, even with some closure, still have uncertainty in where their lives are headed, and it’s a haunting way to end things. There’s some light for them indeed, but leaving things open just made me pine for more.

If Beale Street Could Talk is an excellent follow-up for director Barry Jenkins. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was nominated for or even wins Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards. It’s stacked with amazing performance work, stunning visuals and color choices, and a musical score that will stay with you long after leaving the theater. Take some time after Christmas to find a theater playing this one. You’ll be happy you did.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] The Great Wall (2016)

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Director: Yimou Zhang

Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau

Screenplay: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence.

 

The Great Wall, from director Yimou Zhang (Hero, The Flowers of War), hits American theaters tomorrow, and I got the chance to see if last night. In the best sense of the phrasing, if you enjoyed the trailer, then this is the movie for you.

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The two survivors of a group of mercenaries, William (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, The Martian) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal, TV’s Narcos, Bloodsucking Bastards), have come to the Great Wall for protection from Khitan bandits and a strange creature that attacked them the night before. They are taken in as prisoners but soon prove themselves when the wall is besieged by large green creatures called the Tao Tie who rise every 60 years as punishment for man’s greed. William soon forms a rocky partnership with the Nameless Order and one of its commanders, Lin (Tian Jang, Special ID, The Man from Macau), but he is torn when a European, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, Finding Dory), shows him and Tovar black powder, the substance their group has been searching for. Struggling between his task to steal the black powder and the hero lying within him, William must decide who he really is, and time is running out.

The Great Wall trailer does a great job of advertising this film. It doesn’t lie, this is a movie about Matt Damon fighting monsters on the Great Wall. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Director Zhang inject eastern sensibilities and style in a dual-production from America and China in order to create a truly unique legend of The Great Wall. I really enjoyed the visual flair and Matt Damon’s excitement for his character, and who doesn’t love Pedro Pascal here. Jian Tang is the real star here, holding her own with big names and stealing scenes with her focus, determination, and passion as Commander Lin.

On the downsides, Willem Dafoe is completely wasted on a subplot that had no place in this film, and Pedro Pascal spends too much time out of the focus of the film. It is when Damon and Jang are together that the film hits its highs. The film’s visual effects are nothing to get really excited about, but it also didn’t take me out of the film.

Now to the controversy. It shouldn’t exist. There should be no controversy. Watch the film first and you will see. Zhang has in recent films tasked high-caliber actors regardless of race to fit roles leading the film. It sells tickets, and William was never meant to be Chinese.

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The Great Wall was a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had so far in 2017 at the theaters. It isn’t trying to win you over, so if the trailer did nothing for you, the movie probably won’t change that. I, personally, enjoyed it immensely.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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