Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old.
One big score. If movies have taught us anything, it’s that the moment we believe a boodle of cash can solve all our problems we should bury that thought deep into the recesses of our minds and join a ministry. There is no such thing as easy money, and hard money is never worth the aggravation and misery. Don’t crave greener grass, learn to love the dried, beaten and brown dirt beneath your feet. Huh. Is that the moral we want to pull from Netflix’s latest all-star manly action movie? I’m not so sure about that.
Triple Frontier travels on a very familiar plain for military movie aficionados. While working for a private organization in Columbia, Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac) learns the location of a drug lord’s safehouse. He’s told by an informant (Adria Arjona) that within its walls resides $75 million and it is relatively unguarded. Pope returns to the states where he convinces his former Delta Force bros to journey south for a simple snatch and grab operation.
Why not? Tom Davis (Ben Affleck) is a divorced dad missing the best years of his daughter’s life failing as an uncharismatic realtor. William Miller (Charlie Hunnam) burns his hours as a motivational speaker for servicemen preparing to wage the wars he once did. His brother Ben (Garrett Hedlund) donates his body to the ravenous crowds of mixed martial arts matches. Francisco Morales (Pedro Pascal) is just jumping at the chance to break from the monotony of civilian life.
After their time in the military, their lives amounted to jack-squat. They proved that they could be all that they could be, but the country has no place for them once they’ve served their purpose. That $75 million could solve a lot of woes. We’re watching a movie; we know their decision before they do. It’s the same one made by the soldiers of Three Kings, Dead Presidents, and Kelly’s Heroes. We also know that it’s a choice that will result in more heartache than reward.
↓ TRIPLE FRONTIER SPOILERS BELOW ↓
An hour into the film, Pope and his team bust into the safehouse and don’t discover $75 million but $250 million hidden within the walls of the drug lord’s safehouse. They are not a gang of mercenaries to leave money on the table, and they attempt to load their vans with every last single bill. Sure, that much extra cash takes a little more time to secure, and their smooth operation gets messy when they have to slaughter an incoming wave of guards. Miller takes a bullet, but it’s a relatively minor wound.
They pick up Pope’s informant as well as her brother. They load up a helicopter with their absurd amount of cash, escort Pope’s contacts to Peru, and attempt to carry this massive net of money over the Andean Mountains where a ship is supposed to transport their winnings to an offshore account. Despite Morales’ concerns that the helicopter will not be able to clear such a load over the high mountain altitudes, the team presses on under the desperate urging of Davis.
No audience member is shocked when helicopter alarms blare, and their bird busts a gasket. The team crashes upon a jungle village and cocaine farm. When they attempt to secure their smashed payload, Davis executes several encroaching male villagers. They’re damned now.
They buy/steal a batch of donkeys, load as many bags of money atop their backs as they can, and begin a long trek over the Andes. They make it up the mountains with relative ease, but their descent is more troublesome when a villager tracks them down and fires a bullet into Davis’ noggin. Pope obliterates the assassin in a hail of gunfire, but the damage is done. The team is broken.
Eventually, Pope and the rest reach the shore holding as much cash as they can carry. On top of that, they’re dragging Davis’ body with them, refusing to let his corpse rot in the jungle. There is one last firefight between the drug dealers’ teenage goon squad, but Pope’s team escape by the skin of their teeth.
The surviving four meet with a lawyer who divides the leftover $5 million between them. The original plan was to split the stolen dough five ways, donating a portion to Davis’ family. Instead, the team decides they can’t possibly keep a cent. Each one renounces their share, and the lawyer enters the entire $5 million to a Davis family trust.
The four go their separate ways, but before he fades into a crowded street, Miller hands Pope a crumpled piece of paper. Upon it are the longitude and latitude coordinates indicating where they dumped the majority portion of the money. Just a few scribbles representing the internal torment they’ll never escape.
It’s a hell of a thing training a person in the skillset of combat. Early on in the film, Miller explains to a group of fresh-faced grunts a moment in time when he allowed his warrior self to let loose upon a civilian because he wouldn’t move his shopping cart at the grocery store. Their training and wartime experience has removed them from the society they once protected.
Positioned comfortably in the lap of luxury, Hollywood is obsessed with exploring the traumatic toll delivered on our veterans: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Deer Hunter (1978), Coming Home (1978), First Blood (1982), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Forrest Gump (1992), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016), Thank You For Your Service (2017), and the aforementioned Kelly’s Heroes(1970), Dead Presidents (1995), and Three Kings (1999). That is but a small sampling of cinema interested in discussing the impact the military has on the soul. We’ve seen a soldier’s psychic wounds filtered through every decade, every genre, and Tripple Frontier is merely the latest offering.
According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. For the Gulf War (Desert Storm), about 12 out of 100 veterans have PTSD. For Vietnam, the number is as high as 30 percent. Military.com noted that in 2018 alone, the suicide rate amongst active duty servicemen jumped to an all-time high with 321 individuals. That number does not include the reserve members that took their own life.
What do we do with our soldiers? We make movies about them. As our own Rob Hunter noted in his review, Triple Frontier is a solid “unspectacular action movie.” Been there, done that. We all know the agony that these men and women go through while we kick back in the theater soaking up their painful stories. Maybe you can skip out on that next bucket of popcorn, jump over to the Wounded Warrior Project and donate a few dollars.