Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: John Hillcoat
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, Clifton Collins jr, Teresa Palmer, Michael K Williams, Michelle Ang, E Roger Mitchell.
Australian director John Hillcoat makes visceral, violent, dark and aggressively masculine thrillers, ranging from the bleak prison drama Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead through to the gritty outback western The Proposition, the apocalyptic journey into a heart of darkness with The Road or the prohibition era crime drama Lawless. And he seems to be able to attract A-list actors to work with him. Hillcoat’s latest film is another gritty and morally murky crime drama that is not for the squeamish or faint hearted. Triple 9 features a strong cast, some strong action sequences and a high body count. But it is also something of a disappointment given his body of work.
Written by first time writer Matt Cook, Triple 9 is set on the mean streets of Atlanta, Georgia, a lawless city full of crime and corruption where the gang and gun culture seems out of control. But the script itself raises too many questions and there are some gaping holes in the plot. Some of the dialogue is cliched, and the characterisation underdone.
When the film opens a carefully planned bank robbery is in progress. The thieves rob some money but their prime interest lies with a safety deposit box that holds some important documents vital to a Russian gangster incarcerated in a Siberian gulag. The thieves turn out to be a couple of former special forces operatives and a couple of corrupt cops. They have been blackmailed by the powerful Irina Vaslov (Kate Winslet, cast against type), the wife of the Russian gangster, into working for the Kosher Nostra, a criminal gang of Russian Jews. But Irina welshes on paying them, instead she forces them to break into a Homeland Security safe house, an even more secure location, to steal further incriminating evidence. The thieves plan to distract the police by killing honest cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck).
On the trail of the daring brazen thieves is veteran detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), who happens to be Chris’s cousin.
The title comes from the police code for “Officer Down,” a code that sees police officers everywhere stop what they are doing and respond immediately to the distress signal. The film itself is full of some violent action, double crosses and revenge. But this contemporary heist thriller is also a morally empty film, and its seedy air of corruption and desperation reminds audiences of Training Day and the films of Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, etc).
Hillcoat certainly directs with energy and he maintains a fast pace throughout. He effectively ramps up the action with a superb urban shootout that imitates Michael Mann’s superb Heat, and an exciting adrenaline charged car chase on the city’s freeway.
Belgian cinematographer Nicholas Karakatsanis (the moody crime drama The Drop, etc) gives the film a grimy authenticity as he has shot the film largely using a restless handheld cameras to take us into the action. This is particularly effective in a couple of tense scenes. He has also shot in muted colours, lots of reds and blacks that is meant to intensify the mood, but the colour scheme also sometimes renders it hard to discern what is happening. The film has also been edited in that rapid, kinetic style by Dylan Tichenor (who has worked with the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson) which sometimes renders the action incomprehensible. And too many of the characters seems too similar and we never really get a handle on them and what makes them tick.
Strong performances from Affleck, Winslet and Harrelson bolster the film. Winslet steps into a role originally intended for Cate Blanchett (who wisely said “nyet”), but she adopts a convincing Russian accent and a cool icy demeanour. Affleck delivers one of his best perfomances yet as the fresh faced cop unaware of the corruption surrounding him. Harrelson is also good as the seedy and jaded veteran cop with an addiction problem, a role that has some similarities to his recent work in True Detective and the gritty drama Rampart.
Unfortunately, talented players like Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clifton Collins jr, Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul and The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus find themselves stuck with cliched, one-dimensional characters ands do not leave much of an impression.
With its convoluted plotting and cliched characters, Triple 9 is unfortunately just another police action thriller that doesn’t really offer anything particualrly new or surprising.