Directed by John Hillcoat
Written by Matt Cook
John Hillcoat’s follow-up to Lawless heads in a direction that the Aussie director isn’t entirely familiar with, though the tone fits. His films are dark, and he certainly doesn’t shy away from violence. But this is the first film of his in a while that takes place in today’s society, not to mention that this is the first time Hillcoat has worked with such a large ensemble cast. While it is filled with riveting set-pieces and shoot-outs, Triple 9 doesn’t contain anything to help it climb above countless other action movies that involve dirty cops, clean cops and criminals who don’t trust each other.
It is entertaining enough, but you need to suspend belief in order to get any enjoyment at all from Triple 9. A team of criminals and dirty cops are working for/being blackmailed by a Russian Mafia boss, which is as ridiculous as it is unoriginal. The fact that this Mafia boss is played by Kate Winslet is also a tad ridiculous, though to Kate’s credit she is quite convincing in a subtle yet menacing performance – her accent for the most part is strong and consistent, and importantly she doesn’t overact.
Her sister (Gal Gadot) is the mother of one of the criminal’s (Michael, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) child, which is why she has the control. Why this matters to the rest of the team is for you to decide, but regardless, they are all under her thumb. After one heist is completed, she decides that they are to pull off another job, in order to please her friend in Russia, Vasili.
This of course surprises the team and they are at a loss. How can they pull this off? It is at least a ten minute job, so the team needs a distraction. Cue the title of the movie – one of the crooked cops suggests triggering a triple 9 call, which is police code for an officer down. With police pre-occupied with this situation, the team figures they will have enough time to grab what is needed.
Needless to say, the plan doesn’t go as expected and there are many surprises throughout the second half, as we begin to ponder the motivations of each character. Trust begins to factor into almost every scene, as the alliances of most of the characters are not black and white. Their actions become impossible to predict. The ending did have a twist or two too many, but ultimately wrapped the movie up well… Perhaps too well?
This isn’t a particularly long film, but there are too many different characters to develop properly, and the movie suffers because of it. An example is the sergeant of the police force, played by Woody Harrelson. He could have really had fun with the role, which he certainly does, but due to limited screen time devoted to developing his character, he seems two-dimensional, as does most of the cast. There is no bad acting, but there isn’t anything memorable either. Aaron Paul delivers his first convincing performance since Breaking Bad, though he again has limited screen time and his character is barely relevant.
The best character of the film is Casey Affleck’s Chris, a cop who not only happens to be the nephew of Harrelson’s Sergeant Jeffrey Allen, but also is the new partner of one of the crooked cops pulling off the robberies. Like I said, suspend your belief as this film is filled with moments where you will think “well, how convenient”. His character is easily the most developed, a cocky but ultimately good cop whose morals and beliefs are tested.
Probably best as a rental, this is an exciting film that unfortunately doesn’t stick with the viewer after the credits roll. It has all the ingredients, it looks and sounds great, it has a fantastic cast and a director who has churned out some fantastic films over the last decade. But what it doesn’t have is an original and compelling story, nor does it have a decent script – first time writer Matt Cook obviously struggled with his first attempt at writing a movie. Hillcoat’s last three films were written by Nick Cave (twice), while his adaptation of the The Road was from Cormac McCarthy. A step down then in the writing department, which is this film’s biggest weakness.
Triple 9 isn’t a bad film at all, but it isn’t a great one either. Enjoy the action, take the popcorn and have fun guessing what the criminals will do next.
Four beers out of a sixer. Worth a rent, at the very least.
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