'Triple Frontier' Director on Lessons Learned From Heist Gone Wrong

J.C. Chandor and producers of the thriller starring Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac and others talked to The Hollywood Reporter about why Netflix was the right distributor for the action-heavy movie set in dramatic environments.

[The following story contains spoilers from Triple Frontier.]

By the end of Netflix's Triple Frontier, the former special forces operatives at the center of the film have lost most of the money they stole from a South American drug lord and witnessed the death of one of their own as the heist they undertake doesn't go according to plan.

But when asked about the lessons the characters take away from the disastrous consequences of their mission, actor Pedro Pascal said he would ask, "Do they learn anything?"

Director J.C. Chandor agreed when speaking with The Hollywood Reporter at Triple Frontier's New York premiere earlier this month, explaining that even after Pascal's pilot and the characters played by Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund are repeatedly faced with situations in which they have to evaluate which is more important, money or human lives, the final minutes of the film suggest that "they maybe didn't learn anything at all, which is so human."

"That last 25 minutes of the movie before the very end, they do learn something, they realize that they have made some mistakes, that they should probably not have ever gone on this mission. There were real regrets there," Chandor said, before adding, "We all learn as human beings and we try to self-correct and then after a little time we go back right into our same patterns. And I think that little beat at the end of the movie is sort of a moment showing maybe they didn't learn much at all."

Pascal added, "There’s loss and cost, but at the end, they can only look at themselves."

The unintended consequences of the heist play out in action-heavy scenes across different environments including mountains, the jungle, a small village and even the ocean.

Balancing physical stunts with what the characters were going through emotionally was a challenge for Chandor.

"Sometimes you'd spend the morning just doing some silly physical thing, where you'd spend hours and hours doing that over and over again, trying to get it right. And then in the afternoon, you were asking the actors to kind of really go there," Chandor said. "I think it plays well in the movie because it's what the characters are going through almost — the whole thing for me was supposed to be this journey where they kind of face down the last 15 or 20 years of their lives. So I think it was fun to watch happen, but it was exhausting."

And Triple Frontier's various locales posed challenges for Chandor's longtime producer Neal Dodson.

"The toughest terrain we were in, it's tough to say. The jungle in Hawaii, as much as staying in Hawaii for months on end sounds very luxurious and calming, was pretty brutal," he said. "We happened to be there during a really big rain season and there was a lot of mud and trucks getting stuck in mud and standing in mud and rain and junk and garbage and animals running around in the jungle for weeks and weeks and weeks overnight, because we were shooting nights. But being at 10,000 feet in Mammoth climbing up the side of snow-covered mountains wasn't so easy either. And Colombia was challenging in its own way. When we were shooting in Bogota, it was just an extreme, human environment.... When we were in Hawaii we were probably about 400 people a day and when we were in Bogota we grew to about 950 and it was just — the scale of it — and we were there for a month — this massive scale, to keep everybody safe and to go to these neighborhoods that brought the movie to life in a big way but also aren't the safest place to be always. Bogota is a very safe city but these neighborhoods are rough. It was a lot. It was intense. Every time we finished a location we were, 'Phew, we've got that behind us.' And then you were on to something else that was also challenging."

Indeed, those sweeping landscapes look good on the big screen, and Triple Frontier received a one-week theatrical release March 6, prior to its Netflix bow March 13, but Dodson and the film's other producers argue that the streaming service is the right home for the movie.

Dodson argued that Netflix's global reach of more than 139 million subscribers worldwide gives him and Chandor the largest possible opening audience for "any of our movies or frankly all of the movies we've ever been involved in combined."

"So that is an enormous opportunity for us," he said. "[Netflix's] reach is massive and global. Also, you know, it's an original story and original storytelling isn't being done on a big scale like this elsewhere in town right now."

Atlas Entertainment producers Alex Gartner and Andy Horwitz also stressed the size of Netflix's global audience and the streaming service's support for the film.

"Traditional studios aren't making big original movies like this that often any more," Horwitz said. "I think Netflix is the perfect home because they gave us the right amount of resources and really supported us and I feel like the scale and size of original movies at the studios these days are very difficult to push through, but Netflix is the perfect place for it because they're taking risks on movies like this."

Gartner said, "I think they're also offering the right combination of the way for people to see a story like this. A story like this, while I think it could be a very successful commercial theatrical release, it's going to get a theatrical window and it's then going to be available to, what, 130 million people worldwide on the service and because of that, it's a story that's more likely to find an audience more quickly that way and be accessible because people are going to find that they're going to talk about this movie."