Triple Frontier and The Pedro Pascalification of This Mind of Mine
How an action film that slipped through Netflix's cracks and an actor's entire filmography took over most of my quarantine life. And then some.
Spoilers ahead for Triple Frontier (2019), you have been warned!
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve become a little enamoured with a certain Pedro Pascal. I find his sense of humour and charisma, at least from what I’ve seen in his interviews, very comforting. He’s a very talented actor with legions of devoted fans who celebrate his kindness, and dedication to inclusivity on a daily basis, so it’s no surprise that he’s taken up most of my brain’s processing capacity.
I would be remiss not to mention how gorgeous he is. I shall indeed compare him to a summer’s day; hot and makes me want to act up. I have watched all three Law and Order episodes he’s been in. I’ve outlined the screenplay for the buddy comedy Rahul Kohli so desires to do with him. There are fancams I have bookmarked that I dare not retweet. There is a clip of him saying he would like to be in a Phantom Thread sequel during The Equalizer 2 press tour that I think about at least once a day.
I am, as the kids say, Down Bad.
This rabbit hole Mr. Pascal has me tumbling down leads me to one of his more recent projects. One where a bunch of dudes have a bad idea and look good doing it. I’ve tweeted not-so-sparingly about this film, for an audience of myself and perhaps one (1) friend. So indulge me for a moment, as I’d like to talk about Triple Frontier (2019).
What is Triple Frontier Anyway?
JC Chandor, of A Most Violent Year fame, took to Netflix to release his action heist thriller, Triple Frontier, in March of 2019. The title of the film comes from the tri-border area along the junction of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.
At the time of its release, I was far too busy with graduation deadlines and a crumbling casual relationship to care. But one day in Ramadhan a year later, as my mother and I were baking kaastengles ahead of Eid celebrations, I decided to put it on. To the point where it distracted me so much that our first batch of cookies burned. Since then, I have watched it a total of 4 times in the last two months alone.
Co-written with Detroit’s Mark Boal and produced alongside Kathryn Bigelow, the film follows Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), a CIA attache operating in (what looks like) Colombia, on the hunt for cartel leader Gabriel Martin Lorea. He learns from his informant Yvonna (Adria Arjona) of Lorea’s whereabouts: a house in the jungle that’s said to act as the safe where he keeps his money. Like many drug kingpins of yore, Lorea does not trust the banks. I don’t blame him, but I digress.
Pope heads back to a nondescript Colorado town to recruit his former Special Forces squad to rob Lorea: army motivational speaker William “Ironhead” Miller (Charlie Hunnam), Ironhead’s brother and amateur MMA fighter Benny Miller (Garrett Hedlund), a former pilot and my personal favourite hat wearer Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Pedro Pascal), and team captain and divorced condo salesman Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck). After the boys conduct a successful recce to plan the heist, their siege doesn’t go as planned, leaving them with a trail of repercussions and consequences hot on their heels.
Critics responded to the film ambivalently, among the positive reviews acknowledging how the film’s exciting set pieces make up for its odd, meandering story. No one really spoke about it after its release; it became one of those Netflix films that got lost competing with their hyper-saturated catalogue. I, however, have not been able to stop thinking about it.
So, Why The Hyperfixation, Ari?
Let me be frank, I think a good 55% of why I’m invested in this film is because of the cast. Look at these fellas, I mean really look at them. We don’t get a lot of films like this anymore, where it’s just an unabashed visual celebration of Hunks and DILFs. Those little Marvel movies don’t count, everyone there was grown in a test tube. Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund should play brothers more often, the casting director was really on to something there. Also, I will watch Adria Arjona in anything. I saw 6 Underground for you, who else can say that?
The chemistry of this ensemble is what jumped out at me the most. Blending seamlessly as a unit whilst allowing each individual character to shine was something I was surprised by. Most heist ensembles are put into their little archetype boxes; as I’ve complained some time ago about Ludacris’ Tej Parker retconned into the Hackerman in the Fast and Furious franchise. But in Triple Frontier, it isn’t just about how well these archetypes work together, but the ways each character will look out for and hold the other accountable. Affleck’s Redfly is the leader they’ll all cross the rubicon for but won’t hesitate to call him out on his shit. Benny and Ironhead are fiercely protective of each other, despite butting heads at every turn. Pope got them into this mess but will risk everything to get them out. And Catfish, my beloved, is the strong-but-silent type, only giving his two cents whenever the group needs to get their heads out of their asses.
A few highlights among others: there’s an entire scene dedicated to Oscar Isaac asking the other guys if he’s received their text message; in the same scene, Pedro smacks Oscar in the bum as a friendly bro greeting; a secret weapons mancave hidden in a shipping container where they all wear tight t-shirts, and Garrett Hedlund’s singing chops are fully honoured in a rendition of the US Army Airborne’s Somewhere There’s A Mother. The film itself is a little all over the place, struggling to keep up with the boys’ trek across rainforests, snow, and narrow mountain trails.
As much as I am a fan of high-octane action films with explosions and chase scenes, Triple Frontier was refreshing in the way that it juxtaposed the protagonists’ methodical execution with their surprising emotional vulnerability. These rugged, salt of the earth, “manly” men talk about their feelings a lot in this film, especially their feelings towards each other, no matter how brash and irrational in their delivery. One of my favourite moments in the film is when Catfish (of course it’d be Pedro, wouldn’t it?) tells Pope and Ironhead that “all of this stops now”; that they need to get back on their game otherwise all their suffering would’ve been for nothing, to which Ironhead forces them to reckon with how many people they’ve killed. It’s not exactly the pinnacle of raw emotional vulnerability, but it’s impressive given the amount of duress they had been under in the last 12 hours.
It’s actually quite an interesting examination of modern American masculinity. Here are men whose talents were spent if not wasted in the name of a flag that took them for granted. Isaac’s character makes a point to address how if they were in any other profession having achieved the things they’ve done, they would be set for life; how Affleck’s Redfly can’t afford to put his daughters through college despite being an unsung American hero. Here we see that patriots are not rewarded for their patriotism and that there is no honour amongst thieves, especially if that thief is the country you swore your allegiance to. The film opens with Hunnam’s character giving a speech about the price one pays to be a Warrior, a theme carried through the whole film, to a group of soldiers early in their career. He later admits to his squadmates his disappointment with how the world they live in now no longer requires warriors anymore, one unifying reason behind each character’s motivation: to feel useful again. To feel like they belong.
This film is also another installment in the “Ben Affleck Makes Bad Decisions Cinematic Universe”. If only Redfly had listened to the other boys, the film would be over an hour earlier. I think this is the first time I’ve liked Affleck in anything that wasn’t Gone Girl (2014) or a photo of him balancing his Iced Dunkaccino on top of a pile of Amazon packages. He plays a capable man that pays for the mistakes he’s made with his life.
On Consequences and US Intervention in the Global South
I cannot help but experience some discomfort with the plot of this film. But I think that’s what it means to do, although I may be giving the film too much credit. It doesn’t glorify these men, whose privilege and past military experience reverberate through any nation in the global south with irreparable damage. These guys know what they’re doing is wrong, and they pay the price. They don’t even get to keep their money. Despite most heist films delivering catharsis when the band of thieves get away with their loot, I like that this crew just about loses everything.
There are a few scenes I struggle to get through, my own moral apprehension towards American soldiers doing whatever they want/”need” to do was triggering my fight or flight. There’s a sequence where, after ignoring Catfish’s warnings about how their helicopter cannot take the weight of all the money they stole, they crash and burn in a farmer’s field. The local farmers start asking questions, poking and prodding at their stolen treasure. As Pope and Redfly are unable to diffuse the situation, one farmer reaches for something at his belt. Redfly fires. It becomes a slaughter. With the entire village outraged, Pope settles with good ol’ Cash Dolla with a village elder in exchange for safe passage and a couple of mules for them to carry their contraband. Later on, a mule (unfortunately in Catfish’s hands) slips off a rocky mountainside during one of the group’s more brash emotional altercations. Hedlund’s character starts a fire using the money they’ve got too much of, leading the lads in a chorus of laughter that’s almost eerie. They’ve created a domino effect of suffering they’ve not only brought on themselves but to the ecosystem they’ve dropped into.
There could be a potential reading of this film where it could actually be an indictment on American greed, how Americans themselves become a slave to it, how the system they’ve sworn to uphold, the “freedoms” they’ve sworn to protect, especially in the case of these characters, will ultimately let them down. How it does not care how they live or die, simply that they do eventually in the end. Their greed catches up to them; killing their friend, derailing their plans, and forcing them to give up this fortune they’ve fought to steal.
Vincent Bevins’ The Jakarta Method details harrowing instances of American, specifically CIA, intervention and communist witch hunts in the global south; American preservation of capitalism for the sake of their own comfort and self-interest isn’t beyond installing dictators, bankrolling narcos, or in the case of my home country, mass murder.
On Men, Parasocial Relationships and Consumption of Celebrity Culture
I have been tweeting about men a lot. I know that I know better. Why give men any more attention when I could spend my time tweeting about those photos of Megan Fox and Gillian Anderson from the set of How To Lose Friends & Alienate People? But hey, nobody’s perfect. Especially not me.
The cast’s off-screen chemistry translates on-screen; their relationships sparking a lot of curiosity in me. Isaac and Pascal have been friends for going on 15 years, as has Hedlund and Hunnam. Arjona and Pascal have previously worked together on Narcos. This also marks the third collaboration between Isaac and Hedlund, first meeting on the set of Inside Llewlyn Davis (2013). Part of me is a little ashamed to admit, I mean, I am a grown-ass woman with things to do and time to spend, yet I’ve fallen into the lure of the celebrity trap. They remind me of what I loved about One Direction; their friendship. Or in this case, whatever illusions of intimacy I’ve projected onto these very attractive older men that are strangers to me.
I noticed that during their press tour, the cast of Triple Frontier were often asked what role they would occupy if they were a boyband. They got this boyband question the same way they used to ask One Direction about “what they looked for in a girl”. I myself have made comparisons online to the film’s photocalls and the cover to One Direction’s seminal album, FOUR (2014).
The cast’s infamous beach photos in Hawaii were also a subject of sensationalism during these junkets; they were told it was a private beach but were papped anyway. There is a very amusing photo of Charlie Hunnam looking fine as all hell, and Pedro lying on the sand facedown, as the wonderful @PedroActivities account said, “giving up on life”.
I waded through the waters of Pedro Pascal Stan Twitter mostly out of curiosity, and then to find different subcategories within the fandom itself, much like any other fandom I have peripheral knowledge of. Some are more Star Wars fans, others have an appreciation for actors of a certain category (DILFs), and others that are purely stans of Pascal and his range of characters. There’s a certain kind of language that has been normalised; including the use of the word “normalise” which I only use ironically online. A lot of the interactions I’ve observed and tweets I’ve Liked on the low are all in good fun. There was a very sweet moment sometime last year where Pedro asked what are some cool things to say other than ‘bruh’, which led to his frequent and endearing use of the term ‘poggers’.
Variety @VarietyVariety’s Best Photos of 2020: @BTS_twt, @Harry_Styles, @PedroPascal1, @taylorswift13 and more https://t.co/WzIoDCtnRj https://t.co/I442bJ53Dx
He’s also very encouraging and protective of his queer and fellow immigrant fans; this tweet stands out to me, really tugging at my heartstrings.
I do worry for some younger fans, however, whose moral battleground are the trials and tribulations of “cancel culture”. This is reflected in any young fanbase as of the last five years or so, reminiscent of my teenage years on One Direction Tumblr. There was a case of KPop fans doxxing one another that was quite unpleasant. I get really upset seeing teenagers dogpile each other over things that could be resolved with a little reading and some critical thinking. There was a bit of an issue where white “stans” thought they could police how Latin American fans, Black fans, Asian fans, fans outside of the US should and could carry themselves online---these kids need to remember what the person they’re stanning stands for. Pedro would not want this.
I say that like I know what he wants, lol. Which brings me to my next point: how and why does this overfamiliarity/hyperfixation keep happening? I know it’s that thing of “this is safer, zero chance of rejection so you don’t put yourself out there because you’re already invested in something that can’t hurt you”, and I know that if I don’t clock it sooner rather than later, I might end up with coping mechanisms I won’t be able to sustain. This is the culture of parasocial relationships that I and I’m sure many of you around my age are aware of or have partaken in since Tumblr’s early days. I guess the pandemic has me really missing my friends and the ability to go out and meet people.
That being said, I also understand why his fans, myself included, look up to him so much. Pedro has had a long career, one that’ll only skyrocket further. He’s worked hard; committed himself to struggling until he couldn’t anymore and kept pushing through. I can only hope to earn half of his resilience someday.
On that note, whoever broke up with Pedro Pascal via email (as he said in a Kingsman: The Golden Circle press junket interview), I would like to have a few words with you. And those words are “How”, “Dare”, and “You.”
To conclude, this was an incredibly long-winded way of saying I really enjoyed Triple Frontier, that I genuinely liked it but I had been too embarrassed to admit it to myself and I shouldn’t have to justify it. I can still think critically about the media I consume and turn that switch off to appreciate some hotties.
The Pedro Pascalification of my mind continues, and I’m excited to see what lies ahead for him. Especially his upcoming collaboration with Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. It has everything I could ever want: Nicolas Cage playing himself, a title I could pinch for an autobiography, and Pedro Pascal. Pedro, however, will play an eccentric billionaire in that film. So, if you see my baby daddy get marched to the guillotine, don’t tell me. I already know.