It took me a minute or two to get over the fact that Mads Mikkelsen had a feature in cinemas recently called Arctic, and there’s this one on Netflix called Polar. I bet the producers of both films were annoyed.
This is a John Wick-esque action picture from Swedish music video director Jonas Åkerlund, with Mikkelsen as Duncan Vizla aka The Black Kaiser, an assassin two weeks from retirement. His former employer, Mr Blut (Matt Lucas), owes money to bad people, but he has a deal with all his killers—they have to retire at 50. Since his company manages the employee retirement fund, the money returns to the company if they die on the job. His big plan is to make sure Vizla dies in the next 14 days, but as you might expect, a guy named Black Kaiser is hard to kill.
Åkerlund has a compelling visual sense, but he’s not a filmmaker with much wit, taste, or class—expect stylish exploitation at best, sexualized violence at its worst. When the film tries to get sincere at the end, the hypocrisy is gag-worthy. Other than Mikkelsen, the performances aren’t anything to write home about, but Lucas is especially hammy, and Vanessa Hudgens’ character seems to have ventured in from some other picture altogether, while cameos from Johnny Knoxville and Richard Dreyfuss don’t amount to much.
Beyond that, the action set-pieces are suitably bone-crunching and blood-spurting, which might be enough to hold the interest, and Torontonians may appreciate Hogtown passing for both Seattle and Minsk—which is probably a first—while the Fairmont Royal York lobby and hallways feature prominently.
On the face of it there’s nothing about this that doesn’t appeal to me: A men-on-a-mission movie co-written and directed by JC Chandor (A Most Violent Year) and co-written by Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty). And while it isn’t entirely the sum of its parts, it is a capably made, suspenseful thriller with great visuals and some more interesting ideas than you might find in a typical genre exercise.
Oscar Isaac plays “Pope,” the initiator, the last of his old special forces crew still trying to make a difference in South America chasing a drug kingpin. His tactics are dirty, but years of frustration have taken a toll. He’s got bad knees and a bad neck, and feels like he and his buddies never got what they were owed from their employers or their country. When he gets a shot at the kingpin and his storehouse of loot, he recruits his pals—played by Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund—none of whom are doing too well these days, to head in country with him. The plan is to take care of business, kill the kingpin, and get a big payday.
This is a spectacular-looking picture, better than a movie hip deep in more-or-less the same genre as The Expendables needs to be. I’d expect no less from Chandor, though his casting choices are a little on the nose. Affleck has been making so many bad decisions with his on-screen career lately, when he showed up it literally took me out of the movie: “Oh, yeah, that guy.” But he does well here as the middle-aged soldier who lost something when he left the battlefield. Hedlund, who is in his mid-30s; when will he stop playing the hotheaded kid? Isaac is maybe the best drawn character of the bunch, delivering a physical confidence with props a role like this demands, and managing to drive the emotional arc of the story. But, honestly, Hedlund, Hunnam and Pascal are pretty much only their skills, with character traits only sketched in.
All told, the action sequences are solid. If the plotting veers into implausibility, and the characters’ attack of conscience late in the running seems especially unlikely, Triple Frontier still delivers the same bang-for-the-buck of old-school pictures like The Guns Of Naverone, Where Eagles Dare, and The Wild Geese. These may be the cinematic genre equivalent of Dad Rock, but it works.
Maybe the movie’s worst crime is once again choosing CCR’s “Run Through The Jungle” in a tropical picture after so many years of overuse, while an excellent track about mercenaries like Warren Zevon’s “Jungle Work” languishes. A much better pick is Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” which shows up early on.
I’m a longtime headbanger, but Mötley Crüe was never big on my playlist. I recognized the awesome power of “Kickstart My Heart,” but most of their songs didn’t grab me. But, their reputation as hellraisers preceded them, and even people outside their fanbase, like myself, knew about their insane tours and outrageous behaviour. Their autobiography, The Dirt, catalogued this excess—you might even say, sensationalized it. Did they really get up to all this sex, drugs, and rock and roll? The pyrotechnic latter, sure, but it’s a little hard to believe these four Californian dudes would still be alive today if they did everything they claim. But whether their book—and now the film—is accurate, is not for me to presume. As a rock biopic, exaggerated or not, it leans into the cliches of the genre in the third act, and otherwise delivers all the sleaze you might require anyone could ask for.
Douglas Booth, Machine Gun Kelly, Daniel Webber, and fresh from Game of Thrones, Iwan Rheon, acquit themselves well enough as Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, and Mick Mars, respectively, the Sunset Strip rockers who celebrated bad behaviour, particularly with women of their acquaintance. Tony Cavalero is pretty convincing in a single-scene cameo as Ozzy Osbourne, remarkable mostly for how hilariously disgusting he is, but then he did bite the head off a bat—that’s not a myth.
What The Dirt doesn’t do with any enthusiasm is what worked to distinguish Bohemian Rhapsody, for example—use the music and recreate the potency of the live performance to enliven the picture, lifting it above cliche in places, and maybe even turn on a new generation to the band’s songs. It could be the reason they don’t bother with that here is because, when it comes down to it, Mötley Crüe is better known for what happened off-stage than on it, and after the drink and drugs tear them apart, what’s left is a wholly predictable Behind The Music-style expose.