A Netflix Original Film Review

Sara Wilkerson, Contributing Writer

A Look Back at Netflix Originals

After the success of Susanne Bier’s 2018 hit “Bird Box” on Netflix, one can’t help but notice a significant impact that film had on Netflix’s “Original Film” category.

Prior to the release of “Bird Box,” Netflix Originals like David Rosenthal’s convoluted apocalypse thriller “How It Ends” and Ben Young’s lackluster sci-fi “Extinction” were sleeper films, as they could put you to sleep with how boring they are. “How It Ends” and “Extinction” wasted the potential of their stars–Forest Whitaker and Theo James, and Michael Pena, respectively–all for the sake of cheaply overdone, spectacularly nonsensical, narrative tropes and “stunning” visual effects.

Yet, the arrival of “Bird Box”­–and its notoriety for its outlandish influences on popular culture (blindfold challenge ring a bell?) – changed the way Netflix perceived the value of their Original films. Instead of relying solely on easily recognizable stars to draw in viewers, Netflix realized what the formula for their Original films should be: give audiences what they’re familiar with (i.e. A-listers, tropes, great visual effects etc.), but focus primarily on what makes a film stand out–a compelling story.

All of this brings up an important question: How do you follow up on the success of a film such as “Bird Box” to maintain viewer interest in the emerging world of Netflix Originals? Netflix’s answer lies in its release of two 2019 original films: Chris Smith’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” ­and J.C. Chandor’s “Triple Frontier.”

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

Much like how “Bird Box” created popular culture buzz after its release, “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” had people talking and for good reason. Despite the documentary being released the same week as Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud,” Smith’s “Fyre” holds its own as a compelling behind-the-scenes account of the now infamous Fyre Festival. Featuring Fyre staff members, island workers, and social media influencers, the documentary recalls the tumultuous story of how the prospect of a so-called “luxury music festival unlike no other” was doomed from the start.

At the center of the Fyre Festival disaster were its two co-founders, rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland. Conceived as a strategy leading to a bigger media venture under McFarland’s Fyre Media, Inc., the festival existed as proof of concept for the future of booking music artists at large-scale events. At least, that’s what the original intent was.

McFarland, the main target of the Fyre documentary, is depicted as an out-of-control party animal CEO whose main goal is to keep the party–ahem, festival–going no matter the cost, literally and figuratively. While the documentary itself is a fast-paced narrative from start to finish and does a great job of informing viewers about the fallout of the festival, there’s one glaring point of interest worth highlighting: it doesn’t feature interviews from McFarland or Ja Rule.

To essentially exclude “the villains” of the story from the film is a clear decision on Netflix’s part. Of course, it is known that Netflix did not want to pay McFarland’s price of $125,000 for an interview. Aside from this, it can be argued that Netflix’s decision to not have either of the co-founders featured in interviews is what makes the documentary compelling in the first place.

While viewers are familiar with the A-listers shown in the film–namely supermodels like Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin Bieber–and clear-cut villains like McFarland, the story of the unknown people behind these A-listers and villains are what make this documentary a worthwhile watch. Hearing firsthand from the staff–who were exploited over and over again by McFarland–as they describe their financial, emotional, and social ruin after the fallout of the festival is the true heart of the film.

Feelings of comedic relief, horror, disgust, and sympathy are among those that I felt while watching the film. The mixture of varying emotions that I felt was one that I have never experienced in watching a documentary before. Perhaps viewers of Fyre will forget that it’s a “documentary” altogether and recognize the ingenuity and simplicity of telling the “unknown” stories of exploited and arguably complicit individuals.

Triple Frontier

“Triple Frontier” features multiple A-list actors, including Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, and Charlie Hunnam. The high-profile actors are part of a five-man crew of former special forces operatives looking to rob piles of cash from a drug cartel lord, Lorea, in a strategic heist in the heart of the Brazilian jungle. The heist goes loosely according to plan; however, their exit of the Brazilian jungle proves challenging as they try to fly (literally) under the radar of the Lorea’s cartel henchmen as they escape Brazil.

“Triple Frontier” can be summarily split into two halves–before and after the heist. Before the heist, viewers will be reminded of classic already-said-and-done Hollywood film characteristics. Featured throughout the film are classic rock and outlaw country songs from Metallica and Willie Nelson. Combine these songs with the first half-hour of the film dedicated to rounding up the team of operatives “The A Team” style, and you get the impression that “Triple Frontier” will likely be a stereotypical “guy flick” (Not to mention that the setting of the Brazilian jungle is reminiscent of films like “Predator” and “Rambo,” to name a few.)

The cataclysmic shift of the film is the realization of the meaning behind the legendary “The House is the safe” phrase used to describe the piles of cash owned by Lorea. And as much as I’d like to elaborate further on that, I am not one to give away spoilers. However, the crew’s discovery of the phrase’s meaning is what sets off the chain of events in the aftermath of the heist.

The second half of the film is spent unpacking the meaning of the film’s title. The “triple” of “Triple Frontier” refers to the three terrains that the crew must cross to safely exit Brazil: the jungle, the Andes Mountains, and the ocean. The journey through these three frontiers is the heart of Chandor’s adventure heist film.

Amidst the journey through the frontiers, the morals and values of the operatives are tested; the question of “what would you do in order to save the money you illegally stole?” is answered in characters’ actions. What is particularly interesting is the development and evolution of Affleck’s character Tom, also known as “The Captain.”

Tom is seen as the central and most important operative among the crew, to the point that the heist operation wouldn’t have happened without him. At the beginning of the film, viewers see Tom as a down-on-his-luck real-estate agent who can barely afford to make a living and provide for his family. In the round-up of the crew members, Tom is the most reluctant out of the bunch to go through with the operation since he wants to leave his operative life behind him.

Yet, once he goes on the operation and gets his hands on the cartel’s money, his character’s focus shifts from one of reluctance to one of selfish greed. Tom delays the crew’s escape for the sake of getting as much cash as he can carry, without caring much about the potential consequences of their delay. Tom’s reckless abandon for consequences is evident; his sensitivity to Brazilian natives is a glaring example.

Affleck’s portrayal of Tom is just one of the elements that make “Triple Frontier” a must-watch film on Netflix. Viewers may be used to Affleck portraying larger than life characters, but this film is Affleck’s successful attempt at showing his dramatic acting ability.

Affleck’s performance, the novelty of the film’s narrative structure, as well as the gorgeous cinematography and camera movement, likely influenced by executive producer Kathryn Bigelow, director of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” are all reasons why “Triple Frontier” is a film that should be perceived as a serious contender–just like “Fyre”–for being the continuation of Netflix’s momentum of creating its own genre in its Original films.

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