J.C. Chandor crafts unusually thoughtful thrillers about men in crisis. His debut “Margin Call’’ captured a Wall Street firm mid-meltdown. The near-wordless “All Is Lost’’ stranded Robert Redford at sea. And “A Most Violent Year’’ showed a small businessman in 1981 New York struggling to rise above the moral corruption of the day. His characters are ordinary people reaching their limits, aware the success they’ve grasped is starting to slip away.
In Chandor’s latest, “Triple Frontier’’ (which begins streaming Wednesday on Netflix), five former special-forces operatives — played by the likes of Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, and Garrett Hedlund — emerge from retirement to relieve a South American drug lord of his fortune. They pull off the heist, only for the exit strategy to go sideways, leaving all five stranded in enemy territory and weighed down by $75 million in cash. The writer-director spoke by phone about his biggest film to date and working with Affleck.
Q. What led you to make this film?
A. Tom Hanks and his agent first sent me it; they’d been attached, then [“The Hurt Locker’’ director] Kathryn Bigelow had moved off it. It was neat to read. I come from a family with a real military background. My grandfather and my father are both combat veterans: my grandfather a lifetime member of the Canadian Royal Air Force, my father a Vietnam veteran. I never would have thought to combine those two storylines, the veteran angle in the structure of a heist movie. It seemed like an amazing opportunity to explore the last 20 years of warfare through the individual that had to execute it.
Q. Affleck’s character, Redfly, has the most complex arc of anyone in the film. Why did you cast him?
A. Ben seemed in the perfect place in his career to do this. I’m always inspired by that when I meet with actors; the ones who’ve ended up in my movies are there because they want to be there, or because they know it’s something that would help them flourish in their own lives. Going back to “All Is Lost’’ with Mr. Redford, he’d directed so much before that and was excited to just let go. Ben was at a crossroads in his career, having run his course with the superhero genre. Since he was 20 years old, he’s had ups and downs, but in the greater scheme he’s had nothing but success. Now he’s in his mid-to-late 40s, wondering where he goes from there. How do you continue to evolve and grow as an artist and a person?
Q. What did he bring to the character?
A. Ben made some major choices, and one of them was that, without spoilers, [Redfly] was the person who was going to run into trouble. That came from him; it was another character who had that experience before he [signed on]. Ben wanted to explore the finality of making a mistake. His backstory was that, in his final days, before being forced to retire, he’d lost his brakes a little bit. And as we see him turn into full, black-and-white warrior mode, he realizes he only has two speeds.