Tag Archives: Ben Affleck

Review: Triple Frontier

Triple Frontier

Even in the few hours that have passed since I saw this movie, there are some aspects of it that I like considerably more than I thought I did, and some considerably less. In the end, though, it all sort of balances out to the general reaction I had while watching Triple Frontier, which is that it’s… okay.

The premise is a fairly well-worn but reliable one: five former special ops soldiers (Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal) combine their skills to pull off a large-scale heist in South America. They rationalize it by saying they’re taking what they “deserve” and what the military did not provide them with. And they do so by stealing the money from some legitimately bad people. However, given that the heist itself takes place pretty early on in the film, you can probably guess that things don’t quite go as planned.

Triple Frontier does get points for mostly avoiding the swagger-y, brainless pitfalls that many an action movie before it has stumbled into. There are certainly cliched situations here, but the film also takes the time to explore the moral repercussions of the violence that the quintet of leads inflict. On the whole, there is a thoughtfulness and a critical eye that adds a very welcome layer of complication.

So the script does provide some compelling ethical quandaries. But, boy, does it also feature some clunky dialogue. This is surprising coming from co-writers Mark Boal and J.C. Chandor, each of whom have earned Oscar nominations for their writing in the past. (And, in Boal’s case, a win!) This is especially apparent with Hedlund’s character, who we learn little about apart from his penchant for yee-haw one-liners that sadly give the actor little to work with.

Some of the rest of the cast fares better. Isaac and Pascal, in particular, are super charismatic and seem to understand the somewhat tricky balance of tones the film is going for. This is not a film highly focused on character development (proven by a pretty bland “getting the band back together” opening half hour) and I’d argue that no one is at their best here. But the cast is still seasoned and make it all fun enough to watch.

Chandor’s handle on the action, though, is really the high point of this film. In the hands of a lesser director, Triple Frontier would almost certainly have that cheap look and feel of a low-grade action flick. Instead, Chandor translates the gravity of what is happening through the use of precise, clear directing during the action set pieces. There are probably fewer action sequences than some people will go into it expecting, but the ones that are there (and, in particular, a gripping late-stage car chase) are so well executed that the film is wholly satisfying from that standpoint.

In the end, Triple Frontier could have been excellent but made some compromises along the way. Especially when it comes to the script. It’s handsomely made (including some nice cinematography from Roman Vasyanov), though, and if it sounds like your kind of movie it’s certainly still worth a watch.

Trailer Alert: The Town

It’s been a crazy couple of days for movie trailers, giving us the first look at five of my most anticipated films of the year (I didn’t get a chance to talk about the Howl trailer, but it certainly looks intriguing). Now we’re getting a glimpse at Ben Affleck’s directorial follow-up to 2007’s Gone Baby Gone (a film that I loved), entitled The Town.

It looks quite similiar to Gone Baby Gone, with the mean streets of Boston of full display. Rebecca Hall is a fantastic actress and looks great here, but I’m not sure if I’m buying Blake Lively as the tough gal from the wrong side of the tracks (and she’ll have a hell of a time living up to Amy Ryan’s similar-looking performance). It’s nice to see Jon Hamm stepping out of the 60’s, though.

Like the trailer for Gone Baby Gone, this paints The Town as a very conventional crime film, but I’m hoping (as was the case with Gone Baby Gone) that this trailer simply isn’t doing the film justice. If we can get some of the moral introspection and fine acting that we got in Affleck’s previous work, The Town could turn out to be one of the best films of the year.

Extract (2009)

It should be noted that I have not seen Mike Judge’s 1999 cult classic, Office Space. While it’s on my very long list of movies that I want to someday get around to seeing, I don’t see that as being a problem for reviewing his latest film, Extract.

In this offbeat comedy, Jason Bateman plays Joel Reynolds, the owner of a factory that makes food flavouring extracts. He has to deal with a gaggle of hapless employees, a sexless marriage, and the temptation to cheat on his wife (Kristen Wiig) with an attractive young temp at his plant (Mila Kunis). Joel’s only friend, a spacey bartender named Dean (Ben Affleck) suggests that Joel tempt his wife with an attractive young gigolo (Dustin Milligan). If she takes the bait, Dean figures that Joel is free to pursue an affair with his employee, Cindy.

But unbeknownst to Joel, Cindy is actually a con artist, hoping to capitalize on an unfortunate accident that left one of Joel’s employees, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), in a position to sue the company. The impending lawsuit puts the company’s chances of being bought out – and Joel’s hopes for an early retirement – in jeopardy.

If that sounds like a lot of plot for a silly 90 minute comedy, it’s probably because it is. Extract is a film that would have benefitted from fewer characters and subplots, and more concentration on the humour aspect. There are funny parts, but this movie stalls several times when it’s trying to squeeze in all of the necessary plot points. And after all of that story, the movie still doesn’t feel like it’s really about anything.

But even though Extract is thrifty with its laughs, it does find a lot of humour in everyday people and circumstances. From Joel’s unrelentingly annoying neighbour to the young metalhead working at the extract factory, you’re bound to recognize people that you know in the characters. Joel himself is a very real character, and therefore a very flawed person. He’s kind of like a less likeable version of Bateman’s Michael Bluth on Arrested Development. But Bateman plays the character expertly. His sense of timing and sarcasm is impeccable, and it’s great to see him get a lead role.

Though I’m not much of a Ben Affleck fan (except when he’s directing Gone Baby Gone), I thought he was actually pretty funny here, even if the “dumb stoner” shtick isn’t exactly a new concept. He brings some likeability and zest to the role that’s needed in a film like this, which is so wry that it’s almost devoid of emotion.

Mila Kunis is given virtually nothing to do in this role, other than standing around and looking nice. Cindy started off seeming like an interesting character, but she’s soon shuttled to the background. We never learn anything about her story, and the “con artist” plotline goes in the most expected directions. Kristen Wiig isn’t given much screen time or material either (though she makes the best of it), which is ridiculous, considering what a huge comedic talent she is. Having a good cast is important, but it’s also irrelevant if you don’t play to their strengths.

Extract is a mixed bag. Its observational humour is spot-on at times, but the physical humour involving crotch-shots and black eyes falls totally flat. It suffers from too many characters, and often gets too wrapped up in half-baked storytelling. Bateman really helps to save the movie, and I like that its going for a subtle brand of humour. But in the end, there just aren’t enough laughs to make it a must-see.

6/10