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Warning: spoilers for Netflix's Triple Frontier are in play. If you haven't seen the film yet, and want to remain unspoiled, bookmark this page and come back later.
It's a moment that comes as a shock to everyone who watches Triple Frontier: the moment where Ben Affleck's Tom “Redfly” Davis is taken out by a fatal headshot, thanks to a rash action he'd taken earlier in the film. The karmic consequence of killing a handful of farmers, it's a kill that shocks and surprises anyone who would expect someone like Affleck to make it to the end of the movie. But as co-writer/director J.C. Chandor recently explained, the decision to kill Ben Affleck's character was not only spawned in a re-write, it was from a note from Affleck himself. Chandor's version of events goes like this:
When I first read the script it was a secondary character [who got killed], I can’t even remember which one of the other guys it was. It was someone else… It was actually in meeting with Ben for the first time, he suggested it. He said would you ever be willing to do that? I had actually moved it to a different character than the one that I originally read [in Mark Boal’s draft of the script]. I won’t get into who, but it was to another character and it was very secondary. Ben said, ‘Would you ever be willing to, if I got the studio to agree to it, to allow that to be me?'
Killing off any random character that wasn't Ben Affleck might have worked in Triple Frontier. Doubly so, considering that by time Affleck's lead is killed while defending his friends in a mountain range fire fight, it really felt like the whole team would be walking away from this caper with their lives. But even in the movies, when it's your time to go, it's time to go.
According to remarks Ben Affleck made to Collider during the Triple Frontier press day, that decision was inspired by, among other things, a random crime drama from the 1980's. That specific film, and the effect it had on Affleck's decision, can be read below:
I thought that would be interesting and I wanted to see somebody actually pay a price for what happened. I always liked To Live and Die in L.A., how Bill Peterson’s character died. It kind of takes you off guard. I wanted to do the same thing. This is a little bit later in the movie than Bill Peterson’s character, but it highlights the risk to people’s lives. It focuses on the mortality question and theme, which I think is really interesting.
As mentioned before, Tom's death is the consequence of his cold blooded murder of South American farmers trying to claim some of the money stolen in Triple Frontier as their own. If it wasn't for that particular incident, Ben Affleck's character wouldn't have been hunted down by one of the farmer's sons, and he would have lived happily ever after. Or as happily as he could have with $5 million. But who was originally supposed to die?
While J.C. Chandor isn't divulging which Triple Frontier character was originally on the chopping block, the smart money would be on either Garrett Hedlund's Ben or Charlie Hunnam's William originally taking the big dirt nap. With one being shot during the actual robbery, and the other going out of their way to protect their brother, the process of elimination helps narrow it down to those two characters. And comparatively, they could be considered characters secondary to Affleck's Tom or Oscar Isaac's Santiago.
This only makes the effect of this big rewrite all the more impressive. The finished film doesn't feel like it has just two “star” team members and three “secondary” characters. Rather, the entire team of Triple Frontier is important in their own individual ways. So no matter died, it would have stung. But the fact that it was Ben Affleck is even more shocking, as it violates the conventional wisdom that a star of his stature always makes it to the end. A decision to which we, as movie fans, must say bravo.
Triple Frontier is currently available on Netflix, and being shown in limited theatrical release.