Is greed the final frontier?

Published: Mar 13, 2019, 07:30 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Triple Frontier the new Netflix film that drops today is that high-octane heist pic with robbery being almost the scripts starting point

Is greed the final frontier?
The five leading men play former Special Forces top-guns, who go back to the drawing board, to sharply plan and rob a heavily guarded South American drug-lord

Mayank ShekharThe Special Forces in the US military, as I'm sure in other armed forces, is special for a reason. For one, much like reliably experienced star-performers in a corporate firm or in sport, or any other field, they are allowed to almost operate solo, with fewer rules governing their every move, and far greater freedoms to chart their own path, in ways that could potentially cause envy among the vast mass of colleagues in general.

But, they get away with it, simply because the privileges are a function of what they bring to the table, which nobody else can. What exactly do they do to deserve this? Well, the state is the employer. It holds a monopoly over violence (within constructs of law) among its own citizens.

The same state extending that power over a region outside its borders is considered an act of aggression, even full-blown war. Surely the latter is an expensive proposition, not just economically, but more so on human terms. Given that war, as the cliché goes, is all about old men talking, and young men dying.

Since we tend to forget, about 1.5 million people-a million from Iran, and 250,000-500,000 from Iraq-died in that six-year war between two hostile, non-nuclear neighbours in the '80s alone-just a quick note of caution for India's Internet/TV soldiers!

What if you armed, seriously trained few special men to accomplish covert missions, aimed at extremely specific military/enemy targets; would that save large number of lives? Possibly. These supremely skilled men indulge in illegal activities, under their national flag, which distinguishes them from rag-tag militia, although they operate no differently.

Given the unmatched expertise in tactical warfare, where they can pull off impenetrable battlefield operations all on their own-where/how does one apply the same rare, but naturally wasted talent in a civilised world, when they're no more expected to serve their government?

Actors Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal spent four days with retired Special Forces' dudes, leading up to the shoot of JC Chandor's Triple Frontier, which drops on Netflix today. The five leading men play former Special Forces top-guns, who go back to the drawing board, to sharply plan and rob a heavily guarded South American drug-lord, for once. And (hopefully) live happily ever after!

Triple Frontier initially comes across as a typical 'heist' pic, with a lot of Western grunge-a genre older than one of my favourite classics, Don Taylor's The Five Man Army (1969), set during the Mexican revolution. Except, the heist here takes place well within the film's first half, so you know that's not all there is to it.

As for government's most-loved, under-cover sharp-shooters turning rogue, that's turned out to be a pet theme among major blockbuster franchises anyway-whether Bourne, Bond, Kingmsan, or Mission Impossible series. What drives the men in Triple Frontier is greed/need alone.

This script was first written by Mark Boal for Katherine Bigelow to direct, even before she made Hurt Locker (2008). Over the years, the project passed hands to finally land on Netflix, which is symptomatic of the current Hollywood studio-theatrical system that appears unwilling to invest in untested, original big-budget films, as against what are known as "IPs" (intellectual properties: basically sequels/prequels/remakes/reboots).

I watched Triple Frontier at a proper theatre, and it's hard to tell whether the most stunning set-pieces in it-the falling horse, or the spiralling helicopter-will leave viewers equally awestruck on a smaller screen. Steven Spielberg recently touched a raw nerve passing Netflix off as essentially television content, which should bag a bunch of Emmys, rather than multiple Oscars.

"That's really for the outside groups to define popular arts that they are interested in giving awards to, and what (content) qualifies for it," Affleck tells me over a brief conversation promoting Triple Frontier, where he's obviously the headlining act, but stays slightly off-centre, making the film entirely about five men, and their deadly mission.

How does this fit into Affleck's filmography though? For decades, as writer (Goodwill Hunting), director (Argo) but primarily star-actor, the first thing you notice about Affleck's career is a range that's neatly delineated between strong "indies" (Chasing Amy, Jersey Girl being my top picks), and the massive "event" movies (Pearl Harbour, etc; and well, he is/was Batman, after all!).

Like with Indian cinema, Affleck says this indie/mainstream distinction belongs to the '90s/2000s, when he started his career, and also did Shakespeare In Love (1998), which was a bit of both: "Now there is less bifurcation. I try to fuse sensibilities of both the artistic, and the popular-sometimes to some success, and sometimes to absolutely none at all."

He hopes Triple Frontier is a "kinda hybrid of both." And so you "turn it on have for a fun watch on a Friday night, and the film is also character-based, provocative, and interesting, at a psychological level." Yup; check it out, think you'll agree.

Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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