Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Teresa Palmer, Gal Gadot, Clifton Collins, Jr, Michael Kenneth Williams
A thrilling bank heist can be the perfect way to start a film. It’s an easy choice, but when it’s done well, it never gets old. The Dark Knight and Dog Day Afternoon utilize this very concept perfectly. Triple 9 kicks things into high gear from the get go with a group of five men (Paul, Reedus, Mackie, Ejiofor, and Collins) pulling off the heist, each one having their own role in the job, as they steal a safe deposit box that has ties to the Russian mafia. Naturally it goes awry complicating the situation even further. By the end of the getaway, it’s revealed that Anthony Mackie’s Marcus Belmont and Clifton Collins Jr. are members of the Atlanta police squad. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Michael Atwood is a former special ops agent tied to scene. The mother of his kid (Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot) is the sister to Irina Vlaslov (Winslet), the wife of a Russian mobster. Irina has hired them to perform these heists to help in the release of her husband who’s being held captive in an Israeli prison. They are then informed they need to perform one more job that would require a meticulously planned and flawless execution. They decide that the only feasible way would be to institute a “999”, an “officer down”, to act as a distraction to what they are trying to pull off. Let’s not forget about the “good cops”. Chris Allen (Affleck) is new to the squad and is partnered with Marcus Belmont. They have very different interrogation methods leading to an unhealthy working relationship. Allen is also the nephew to Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Harrelson). That’s probably the easiest way to describe an overly complicated film involving corruption, greed, mobsters, and Mexican gangsters.
Triple 9 is the latest from up and coming director John Hillcoat who’s slowly making a name for himself. He previously directed The Road, The Proposition, and Lawless. This is by far his biggest project to date with the huge ensemble cast and the web of connections between them all. Despite the big names attached, this layout is the film’s biggest failure. The script by beginner screenwriter Matt Cook needs more focus. There are far too many characters and side plots to keep straight as you try to figure out who’s working for who, who’s turning on who, who’s related to who, and how it all fits together. There are some interesting characters, including Casey Affleck’s by-the-books cop, but the majority of them aren’t given any sort of arc or likeable quality in the first place. There’s also a lack of exposition to explain how we’ve gotten to this point in the overall story. The opening bank heist falls somewhere in the middle in the grand scheme of things. I suppose you don’t always need to have admirable characters or a clear time line of events, but you should have it make sense along the way.
It’s a puzzle that I always invested in and was never bored at, but found that I couldn’t fully give in to it at the same time. I spent too much time trying to piece it together and remember character relations instead of giving in and going along for the ride. What Hillcoat gets right and makes the film recommendable is the nitty gritty action sequences. His chase sequences are sharply executed and are some of the better moments in the film. Hillcoat isn’t worried about plot during these moments but instead showcases the carnage and brutality at hand with the flying bullets and blood splatter. Along with the opening, there’s a fairly intense apartment raid and another scene involving three heads lined up on the hood of a car. Where are their bodies? We don’t know, and we don’t care as that image alone speaks volumes.
The sprawling cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Teresa Palmer, and Gal Gadot. Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson are the standouts. Harrelson seems to have a role tailor made for him. His police sergeant character is flying high on life and cocaine. Affleck continues to prove he can bring a complexity to a role when it isn’t always written for him. He appeared earlier this year in Disney’s The Finest Hours and was the best part of that movie. Kate Winslet is acting far outside her standard fare as the Russian mob housewife. You can tell she’s having a wicked good time with the big teased out hair, fake nails, and Russian accent. Oddly enough, her character plays a big factor into the storyline, yet she isn’t given that much screen time.
Triple 9 will harken back to the days of The Town, The Departed, and Heat, However it’s is nowhere near those films in quality. For the most part it succeeds as it sucks you in and gives you second thoughts about how morally sound you would like to assume law enforcement is in these large cities. I wouldn’t mind giving the film a second viewing now that I’ve had time to make sense of it. I’d classify it as one of those movies that you grow to appreciate after multiple viewings. It boasts a dynamic cast of actors whose characters are all one-step closer to losing it.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? A few good standout performances and intense shoot-outs make up for some of its larger weaknesses in terms of storytelling.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS