Feb 082016
Triple 9 poster
Title: Triple 9
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor,
Kate Winslet,
Anthony Mackie,
Casey Affleck,
Woody Harrelson
Genre: Crime, Action
Runtime: 1 Hour 55 mins
Music: Atticus Ross
Studio: Open Road Films
Certificate: US: R
UK: 15
Release Date: US: Feb 26 2016
UK: Feb 19 2016
See If You Like: Training Day,

It’s a 99 ice cream cone… squared… or cubed… *Police Reference*

John Hillcoat has crafted a nice reputation for himself with the high quality of cinematic delights The Road and Lawless. No man is bulletproof however, and he shows his fallible tendencies with a major waste of a superb name cast in bent cop heist crime thriller Triple 9.

Michael Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Secret In Their Eyes) leads a group of bent cops and ex-Special Forces members in pulling off heists for the Russia Mafia for a big payday in Atlanta, Georgia. However, mafia moll supremo Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs) pulls a fast one on the group, giving them a near-impossible task to complete before they get their money. Marcus Atwood (Anthony Mackie, The Night Before) comes up with a plan for a ‘999’ Police call where all units respond to an ‘Officer Down’ event, with his innocent rookie gang squad member Chris Allen (Casey Affleck, Interstellar) in the crosshairs. Hot on their tails however is Chris’ uncle, Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2), who starts to notice one or two coincidences around the police force.

An impressive cast on paper, Triple 9 takes steps forward & backwards with it’s usage of members. Ejiofor adds to a nice resume with a reasonably sympathetic performance as the ex-forces guy whose trying to earn some dollar and respect so he can see his son again. Whilst that subplot is underplayed, Ejiofor keeps up his man-with-the-plan with an intense focus throughout, allowing the human side to poke through only when needed. Considering it may sound clown shoes, and worrying given her ineffective antagonistic role in the Divergent series, Winslet was rather threatening, and carries a menacing presence to go along with a ruthless mob family streak. Mackie does not put a foot wrong as the cop who struggles to come to terms with ending an innocent life.

Triple 9 01 Anthony Mackie Clifton Collins Jr

From those nuggets of goodness, the rest of the cast does not make a similar impression through no fault of their own. Affleck is meant to be the innocent one who hasn’t got a clue about the danger he’s in but he keeps cocking up police procedures and chews gum like a bellend throughout the entire film – you almost want to see him get wasted from an early point. There’s not enough Harrelson, which is understandable given the big, notable name cast struggling for screentime, and it’s nice to see they let Clifton Collins, Jr. (Transcendence) cosplay as Sebastian Castellanos from The Evil Within videogame. Aaron Paul will be annoyed that he has to shake off that junkie tag he earned from Breaking Bad again, whilst The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus barely makes an impact. Similarly, Gal Gadot – your first ever big screen Wonder Woman from the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice – is relegated to Irina’s sister that is there to pout and look sexy on camera with five lines of bitchy chat. So, whilst Triple 9 does not contain a bad performance per se, there is a misuse of an impressive cast in a way too busy film. A streamlining would have been much appreciated.

Where Triple 9 excels is it’s use of fresh take on police tactics in superb action scenes. The fake-out sequence about halfway through ramps up the tension as we see Marcus & Chris take charge as they clear out a gang-ridden apartment block to chase down a perp. With Chris up front with only a police shield & bulletproof jacket for protection and what we know is planned for him as an audience, your nerves will be somewhat shredded as the police make sure that every nook and cranny is clear before moving on whilst some gangsta is hiding round the corner waiting to take out a cop. Jeffrey driving like a madman responding to the 999 call is hardly a car chase but it’s great to see his fire involved as he recklessly takes out the vast majority  of the Atlanta public’s wing mirrors. Whilst not a police thing per se, the anti-terrorism usage of the smoke grenade in the bank vault box in the opening is cool as, and credit is well deserved for the on-edge sequence where Chris & Marcus go seeking an informant in some darkened out apartment-block-cum-crack-den too.

Triple 9 02 Casey Affleck Woody Harrelson

The terrorism aspect of our stuck in the middle dirty cops are played up nicely as well. The tiniest details go a long way with the crooked ones in the film’s opening using Spanish language and accents in an attempt to give their law abiding comrades the slip. It’s something different than your usual plain English bad guys in a nice touch. In the final heist, the goriest moment of the film is where some poor sap security guard gets an ankle blown off to an exploding  shotgun shell. The idea of a back-up guy driving a van nearby and keeping an eye on the team and helping them make an exit route away from the oncoming Police was a nice touch too.

Considering the cast he has managed to assemble and his priors, Hillcoat lets himself down here. There is definitely some delusion of grandeur with messy post-production touches failing to come off as unique. Hillcoat uses singled out specific sounds and noises in certain scenes with everything else removed. It’s quite startling but it’s played for effect in scenes where it’s not needed. Jeffrey zooming along a freeway with just the sirens blazing with no actual engine noise or momentum sounds is just plain weird and needless. A trip to Atlanta is a much appreciated change of pace from the drawn out, cliche usual crime movie hotspots, although there isn’t too much difference to say a West Coast, USA setting – the main crime gang is hispanics and they’re suitably tattooed to the Tech-Nines. The big plot reveals and numerous double crosses are already telegraphed by about the halfway point with no real innovation to a same old story sequence. The film itself hits a natural climax a good quarter of an hour before it’s actual runtime ends as we see the final twists labour on screen. Whilst no-one expected expected the Earth from this, Hillcoat doesn’t quite make a hat-trick in his recent filmography with Triple 9.

Triple 9 at points is a film deserving of higher praise. The action set-pieces offer top-drawer thrills & at least offer some originality, whilst the better usage of the cast does get you involved on an emotional level. Elsewhere though, it’s a run-of-the-mill bent cop thriller with way too many of it’s cast members let down by a lack of screen time or presence with little to do. The weird usage of singled out sounds does not sit well, yet the nice little touches of innovation raises this movie to be above average. Worthwhile yet unessential.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife

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Triple 9 poster