TRIPLE 9 (Entertainment One)
Dir. John Hillcoat, Script. Matt Cook
Cast: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot with Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet
Plot: Blackmailed by the Russian Mafia, a group of criminals and corrupt cops must pull off a daring heist.
Triple 9 begins with gritty shots of the Atlanta projects mixed with continued radio interference and the industrial music of Atticus Ross – I believe this should tell you all you need to know. The heist film, directed by Lawless helmer John Hillcoat, keeps this invariably bleak tone throughout the near-2 hour runtime with absolutely no let-up or relief; while this gritty thriller may be concerned with ‘them streets’, the heavy tone will end up making audiences wish for ‘them beds’.
CORRUPT COPS BLACKMAILED BY THE RUSSIAN MAFIA MUST PULL OFF A DARING HEIST IN TRIPLE 9
It’s actually a little bit of a shame, because on the whole Triple 9 is not a bad piece of filmmaking. Stylistically, director John Hillcoat’s shaky-cam tracking shots work – the action sequences are suitably intense, although sometimes the motion-sickness inducing camerawork makes it a little difficult to follow. In fact, the whole of Triple 9 is a little difficult to follow – its a film that really attempts to set up a complex world in which the film exists, but the actual storytelling suffers for it. Often the plot feels overly convoluted – I had to jump through more hoops than I should have needed to in order to follow the story.
Explaining Triple 9’s story is actually kind of a challenge: it follows a ragtag group of corrupt cops and regular crooks that, for reasons unknown, are under the control of the Russian mafia, doing their bidding on pain of death. After performing a heist, they then have to perform another heist, retrieving files under the protection of US Homeland Security in order to free a high-ranking mafia member. In order to achieve this, they must create the mother of all diversions: kill a police officer, a naïve good-cop assigned to partner a corrupt one, creating a ‘Triple 9’ code that will draw the entire police force away to one area. All the while, there’s a police detective with family ties and a couple of other subplots to worry about. You think you got it?
CASEY AFFLECK AND WOODY HARRELSON ARE JUST TWO NAMES IN A STAR-STUDDED ENSEMBLE
Naturally, such a complex story needs quite a few names to carry it, and I must say Triple 9 pulled off some real coups. There’s big names aplenty, headlined by Kate Winslet who gets a pantomime evil role as the boss of the Russian Mafia – she’s probably the pick of a bunch that should really be doing a bit better. Former Oscar nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Woody Harrelson do nothing but relay Triple 9’s unrelenting grimness, rising stars like Aaron Paul and Anthony Mackie’s natural charisma fails to shine in relatively boring roles, and while Casey Affleck (as the aforementioned naïve cop) and Clifton Collins Jr. (subtly menacing as a corrupt Latino policeman) bring a little bit of fire to proceedings, there’s not much they can do to kick the film into life.
KATE WINSLET IS THE EMBODIMENT OF EASTERN EUROPEAN EVIL AS A MAFIA BOSS
The problems lie in Matt Cook’s screenplay, a former Black List nominee way back in 2010 – Cook’s screenplay actually does a pretty good job of telling Triple 9’s complex tale. What I also liked about the way Cook penned this is that each character’s motivations are clearly spelled out, so every next step of the narrative feels like a logical one. However, I feel like Cook lost focus when it comes to actually creating characters. The main reason I couldn’t get myself into what is a decent story is that none of the characters had enough personality to hook me in.
Another massive issue is that, frankly, the film is boring. Cook chooses to completely immerse his film in the dark underbelly of Atlanta, and leaves absolutely no room for let up. The structure lets the story down: while the choice to throw us in to an action sequence works on its own, it creates a massive, 60-minute shaped hole in which we hear about what characters are going to do, rather than seeing characters do those things. Add that to the constant preaching about this being the streets, and the overall effect is staggering. Triple 9 could supercede Nytol and be sold on prescription. Each aspect of the film is like a different anaesthetic, and when they’re comprised together you have the mother of them all.
TRIPLE 9 UNFORTUNATELY SUFFERS FROM ITS GRIM TONE AND LACK OF INTERESTING CHARACTERS
Triple 9 is a decent film from a technical standpoint, and on paper the story has a lot of potential for a pretty good heist thriller. But in the hands of Hillcoat, it feels like an Aldi-version of The Wire, with nowhere near the level of depth. The production choices end up really wasting what is a talented group of actors, herding them into cookie-cutter roles. There’s really nothing in the way of a hook – and without a hook, all Triple 9 does is succeed as a two-hour odyssey of nothing, told as bleakly as a doctor’s diagnosis.