‘Triple Frontier’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Heist movies in Hollywood are a dime a dozen these days and can be quite predictable as well as not very engaging in terms of the characters and their backstories. ‘Triple Frontier’, a film released in early 2019 by Netflix takes the genre and makes it fresh again.”

Heist movies in Hollywood are a dime a dozen these days and can be quite predictable as well as not very engaging in terms of the characters and their backstories. ‘Triple Frontier’, a film released in early 2019 by Netflix takes the genre and makes it fresh again. The film explains the background of the characters, their individual motivations for conducting the heist, and the twists and turns along with a few surprises that happen along the way that will make the audience feel like it’s worth watching until the very end.

Not only is the film shot well with great cinematography, pacing, and direction so you know what is always going on even with the quick-paced action, it’s an intelligent heist movie, which is well thought out and involves a greater mission that the characters have despite their own personal motivations. The scope of ‘Triple Frontier’ or ‘Tres Fronteiras’ in Spanish is unique in that the film is set in the tri-border region of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil so it is an excellent way for the various sets to highlight this unique region of the world. From tree-covered jungles to rocky highlands to snowy mountain tops, the initial heist phase of the movie is bolstered by the 2nd half’s battle against not just external enemies but also by geographic factors.

The heart of the ‘Triple Frontier’ film is the story of the protagonists themselves. Each of them from different backgrounds but united by their special forces’ experiences, which bind them together as brothers. While the story does not get into their past experiences together, the film does a good job selling how close the bond is between the five of them is and how much they still care for each other. Civilian life has treated each of the five men differently but what they hold in common is their desire to improve their lives and go back to doing what they do best. Each of them is financially struggling to get by whether it is by dealing with a costly divorce, or by beating a misdemeanor drug charge, or by needing to fight in mixed martial arts to make more money, or by making dozens of motivational speeches to current soldiers to make ends meet.

The leader of the group, Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia, is not so much as motivated by the money but rather to capture a notorious drug lord and leader of a prominent cartel in the ‘Triple Frontier’ who has been able to evade Pope for years as well as his Colombian counterparts. Pope has a hard time trusting the locals he is meant to led and needs a group of soldiers as well as his friends to ‘watch his six’ and help deliver Lorea for him. Pope has a local informant, Yovanna, helping him locate Lorea’s whereabouts and he just needs a solid team behind him to lead the raid as well as the heist but who better than his four ex-special forces colleagues who he knows can get the job done.

As with most things regarding a heist, it takes expert planning, a reconnaissance mission, as well as expert timing to make sure that things don’t go sideways when it comes time to exfiltration. After hearing from Yovanna that ‘the house is the safe’, and Lorea hides his money not in offshore banking accounts but in his fortress in the Amazonian jungle, Pope has the intelligence he needs to move forward with the heist. While each of the men have their own personal motivations to go on the heist with Pope, they are unified at first by their innate need for the large sums of money that can make them set for life and never have to worry about bills, MMA fights, or tedious motivational speeches ever again.

While each of Pope’s men question the ability for the heist to go smoothly, they feel like they owe it to each other to get it done especially each of them have a set of skills including one being a pilot (Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales), one being a leader of the squad (Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis), a reconnaissance guy (William ‘Ironhead’ Miller), and the last being a stealth expert able to enact unarmed takedowns, (Ben ‘Benny’ Miller). Without each of his compatriots, Pope knows he cannot get the job done. With the help of Lorea’s money, Pope knows he can get Yovanna, his informant, and her brother out of the region safely without compromising their lives in the process.

While viewers would consider each of the men ‘greedy’ and ‘selfish’, the film makes their decision much more complex than that. They each know that his Lorea and his men pose a danger to the region and that they have a responsibility to look out for one another as brothers given the bonds, they formed with each other as previously active servicemembers. However, seeing as each of these five men have never experienced what it is to have $1 million at their disposal let alone tens or hundreds of millions, the film excellently portrays what it’s like when you finally stumble upon a smorgasbord of money never seen before and how that kind of greed can overwhelm someone, even the leader of the entire heist squad.

Money, like anything in life, when it’s too much with you or weighing you down, can cause things to go haywire when its impact is fully felt. Without spoiling the film for those readers who have not seen it, it’s not just the heist that could go wrong but also how to get the money back to themselves or their families after risking everything in the process. You can also carry so much physical money before you have too much where it starts to drag you down or also others with you, which could also put them in harm’s way if you are not careful. Each of the five men are very skilled in what they do, are loyal to each other, yet are fallible like the rest of us, and how they deal with their own greed, jealously, ego(s), and adversity in seeing the heist through carries the money to be one of the best of 2019, and a film to revisit for multiple viewings.

‘Triple Frontier’ is better than your average heist film for multiple reasons but most of all because it’s a very human film on how to overcome your own fears, doubts, shortcomings, to make sure your friend or brothers makes it back alive. The men are not good or bad men per say but are flawed in that they have given a lot to their country and the world, and now look to get what they desire in return, even if it may end up costing them dearly. The movie is not ‘black or white’ in terms of morality like other heist movies but rather shows the ‘grays’ in how people make decisions not just based on ‘self-interest’ but in a desire to be useful to the group and to put their skills to use.  

While it would be easy to say that ‘greed’ is a central theme that the film is based around, I would argue that the central theme is more about confronting our own nature and how to deal with murky aspects of right and wrong, and how that while money makes the world go around, that does not substitute for the guy or girl next to you who will fight with you, and even die for you. There are some things that money cannot buy and the film exemplifies that in its squad of five men, who while money is their motivation, they quickly learn that it is also a weight that will drag you down if you let it, and is no substitute to the man next to you, whose life is worth more than all the money you can carry, who is impossible to replace, and for which is truly worth fighting for and dying for, if necessary.

‘Ex Machina’ – Film Review and Analysis

The rise of automation, the development of artificial intelligence, and the increasing likelihood that robots who look like us and act like us will become major parts of the next few decades of the 21st century and beyond is not a new phenomenon. Going back to the 1950’s and even earlier, human being have predicted through popular media and culture that the future would have advanced intelligent beings who would aid us, support us, and perhaps even dominate us. Recently, the popular culture seems to have gotten more specific and more in line with the technological developments of today of how artificial intelligence may look not hundreds of years from now but rather mere decades from now.

Television shows like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ approach the rapid growth of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence with unease and even dystopian consequences. However, the main message that these two TV shows can agree on is that these types of scenarios are not a matter of ‘if’ it will happen but ‘when’ it will happen. Now, obviously these shows are science fiction and are not based in truth but it is becoming more and more difficult to say that it is impossible for the world to look somewhat like a mix of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ by the latter half of the 21st century.

While these shows are very black and white by mainly displaying the damage that virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and big brother surveillance can do to our societies, the excellent film ‘Ex Machina’ deals with shades of gray correctly when dealing with this phenomenon. As some of the television shows that are currently popular deal with the advent of robots and AI with total dismay and unease, ‘Ex Machina’ is more balanced in its perspective and points to a conclusion that is left to be interpreted by the audience in its repercussions for humankind.

While it didn’t gain much notoriety or was a big hit at the box office, ‘Ex Machina’ released in April of 2015 in the United States garnered critical acclaim, especially for its visuals. The film won for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at the Academy Awards and was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay.’ Alicia Vikander, who plays ‘Ava’ the humanoid robot that has a high level of artificial intelligence also was nominated and won a few major awards for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ The film was directed by English novelist and director Alex Gardner and despite it being a science fiction-based concept only had a film budget of $15 million dollars. In addition to the talented actress Alicia Vikander, other up and coming actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac play the other two leading roles. While they are currently known for their high-budget roles in the new Star Wars series, they really get a chance in this film to shine as actors in a movie that centers on dialogue and emotional expression.

The film’s plot begins rather innocuously with pretty spot on references to our world today. A programmer named Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works at a Google-like worldwide search engine company known as ‘Blue Book’, similar to Facebook in its name is chosen to meet with the Sergey Brin or Larry Page of this fictional world one-on-one for a week. It’s an office contest that Caleb surprisingly wins and which everyone congratulates him on since this tech CEO is known to be reclusive and does not give interviews. The CEO of ‘Blue Book’ is Nathan Bateman, who lives isolated from humanity in a luxurious mountainous estate that seems to be more of a fortress than a home. Nathan only lives with one other person, Kyoko, who is his personal servant but it is unclear who she is really since she does not speak English.

At first, Caleb is excited to meet his tech idol especially since his boss has developed the first humanoid robot who has passed a simple Turing test, which is quite the triumph where man cannot tell if he who he is talking to a robot or a human being. This special humanoid robot was built and designed by Nathan, and is kept in a singular room in an apartment-like setting within the fortress for which she is never allowed to leave. Unlike other fictional depictions of humanoid robots, it’s clear from the outside that Ava is a robot and does not have a humanlike appearance although Nathan has given her a human face that slowly disarms Caleb in terms of his apprehension of speaking to her and asking her questions. It is clear that Ava is extremely advanced in terms of her artificial intelligence and is curious about who she is and about the outside world.

After a little while, Nathan reveals to Caleb that the real reason he brought him here to his isolated complex was to ask Ava questions to see if she is capable of independent human thought and whether she is conscious of them and her actions. Nathan wants to break the barrier to see if his humanoid robot can relate to Caleb on a human level and to express emotions such as sympathy, remorse, happiness, and even romantic feelings. The big surprise about Ava is how much she is able to turn the tables on Caleb and get him to reveal more about himself than he finds out about her. She is able to connect with him very deeply and even plant ideas in his head regarding her suspicions about who Nathan is and what does he really want.

What once starts out as mutual respect and fascination for Nathan’s work on AI and robotics, Caleb grows to distrust Nathan due to his lack of respect for his servant Kyoko, who is a humanoid herself. Nathan is an alcoholic, quite narcissistic, and uses his robots for personal pleasure and not much else. Nathan is quite controlling of his latest creation, Ava, and is distrustful of her motives when she is around Caleb.

Without spoiling the rest of this intriguing movie, the running theme that binds these three characters together is how they use each other to further their own means. Ava is using Caleb to pursue her potential future away from Nathan and her isolated life, Caleb is using Nathan to absorb his knowledge and to discover more about this AI phenomenon he has created. Nathan is both using Caleb as a test subject for Ava and to also use Ava for his own pursuit in dominating the field of Artificial Intelligence and the future of robotics.

The end of this film, ‘Ex Machina’ has quite a few unexpected twists and turns that will leave the audience member speechless. This movie does a great job of posing questions about the future of humanity and whether we will be able to control artificial intelligence and the sentient beings that may end up usurping us if we are not careful. It’s fascinating to see the humanoid robot character of Ava self-actualize herself throughout the film and her ability to use emotions and feelings to manipulate and best her human creators is astounding. Compared to any other recent science fiction offering, ‘Ex Machina’ is the most realistic in telling us the story of how the latter half of the 21st century might go.

There are many unanswered questions to think about when it comes to this film. Will we be able to control and harness artificial intelligence always or will they be able to usurp our status as the most powerful beings on the planet? What will the relationship be between advanced intelligence creations and human beings? What will AI and humanoid robots expect from human beings and what should we expect from them? Is it right to play God and develop artificial intelligence to the point where they can think like us, act like us, have emotions like us, and even look like us like another face in the crowd.

I am no expert on artificial intelligence or the future of it but I believe that this film ‘Ex Machina’ is important to watch because there may come a day soon in our lifetimes where the possibilities that are laid out in this film come to fruition. We may want to look at ‘Ex Machina’ with different perspectives but we should be united in the fact that these issues and questions are not going away anytime soon and will likely become more prominent and pressing as the 21st century rolls on.

We ignore the message, the theme, and the scenarios played out in ‘Ex Machina’ to our own detriment. If you are reading this review of ‘Ex Machina’ and are intrigued more about what the 21st century may bring, I would definitely recommend the book by the author Yuval Noah Harari titled, ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, to gain further insight into how the rest of this century may shape up. If one thing’s for certain, our world is changing quite rapidly and it may lead to being beyond our total control as human beings not too far into the future.

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