Synopsis: A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.
Stars: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet
Director: John Hillcoat
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Triple 9 kinda snuck up on me. Admittedly, I’ve been a little distracted with the upcoming Oscars to prep for and an aversion to perusing trailers that give too much of the movie away. Still, I was surprised that a movie boasting the A-List talents that Triple 9 has didn’t register on my radar until it’s release date was already rapidly approaching. We’ve emerged out of the murkiness of a dull January and are entering into the warmer waters of February and while Triple 9 isn’t the best work of anyone involved, it’s a solid entry into the crime drama family.
Presented with the right amount of grit, grime, and gore (one bloody scene takes place in a dilapidated housing project infested with vermin both human and animal), the movie takes a solid 45 minutes to get going into any interesting direction. First it’s a heist film, then a cop drama, then it’s (briefly) a buddy picture before settling into its tale of corruption and double crosses. All of it seems a bit recycled from better pictures but I kept going back to the fact that it’s quite well made and earnestly performed by its impressive roster of bad guys and gals.
The film opens with a bank robbery executed with tactical precision led by small time criminal Michael Atwood (Chiwitel Ejiofor, Secret in Their Eyes). On a mission to obtain the contents of a security deposit box that’s set to net him and his crew a tidy sum upon delivery, Atwood has more than money on his mind as his payday is being funded by his son’s mother’s sister (did you follow that?), the acting head of a Russian mafia family. When the boss lady (a smirking Kate Winslet, Labor Day) demands Atwood and his crew take on one more mission, it comes with hefty consequences for all involved.
Into the mix is thrown Chris Allen (Casey Affleck, The Finest Hours) a cop returning to duty in a new precinct. The new kid on the block steps on some toes, including that of his grumpy partner (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain) and the local gangbangers who are used to cops looking the other way. How Chris becomes linked to Atwood is one of the twists you’ll have to experience for yourself but no double cross comes as a surprise and no one is safe from the chopping block as one major character learns early on.
Look, there’s some good stuff to be found here, such as director John Hillcoat’s (Lawless) staging of several tense chase scenes and shoot-em-ups. Hillcoat is solid at ratcheting up the stress meter of the actors and the audience as we peer around dark corners not knowing what we’ll find. We’re all let down by Matt Cook’s script, a mish mash of underdeveloped characters and a final feeling that the whole dirty business was pretty pointless. As you can see from the poster above and nearly all the marketing materials, red is the color du jour and Hillocat goes a little overboard with the red herrings and red visuals (smoke, clothes, signs, lighting, etc) to the point where you just want to say “OK, we get it…it’s symbolic.” and move on.
Ejiofor seems a little sleepy here, only coming alive in scenes where he’s going toe to toe with Winslet. Winslet, for her part, is to be commended for trying out another bad girl (after her swing and a miss with Divergent) but it just doesn’t suit her…kinda like her iffy Russian accent. Winslet’s actually in more of the movie than I thought she’d be, but it’s reduced to a series of scenes where she taunts Atwood that she can whisk his son away at any moment. Aaron Paul (Need for Speed), Clifton Collins Jr. (Pacific Rim), Teresa Palmer (The Choice), and Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6) comprise the rest of the cast and, especially where the women are concerned, fade to the background faster than they should. Let’s not forget Woody Harrelson’s (Out of the Furnace) half serious/half jokey performance as a veteran detective, the uncle to Affleck’s character. Seeming to be impersonating his True Detective co-star Matthew McConnaughey’s laid back twang and sporting a confusing set of false teeth, Harrelson adds some spark to the film…but at what some significant cost to his overall effectiveness.
It’s a rather mulligan stew of a picture and it’s too long by a good twenty minutes, but Triple 9 isn’t a totally unwelcome guest. Might be worth a lazy matinee day but it could easily wait to take up your time at home.