UK Release Date: 19th February 2016
Runtime: 116 minutes
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Matt Cook
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Gal Gadot, Clifton Collins Jr
Synopsis: A group of corrupt cops must resort to desperate, murderous means in order to pull off the most dangerous heist they have ever organised.
John Hillcoat has earned himself a reputation as perhaps the most nihlistic director working in Hollywood, with films such as The Road and The Proposition. His latest, Triple 9, is a blood-soaked corrupt cop thriller that caused major controversy last month by not being Deadpool at a Cineworld secret screening. Unfortunately, that story is more intriguing than the film.
Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) leads a group of criminals, including corrupt cops Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Franco (Clifton Collins Jr), who carry out heists on behalf of Irina (Kate Winslet), whose imprisoned husband is a major Russian mob boss. They are tasked with completing a seemingly impossible job and the only way to pull it off is by causing a “triple nine” call with the murder of a police officer. Marcus’ straight-edged new partner Chris (Casey Affleck) is the prime candidate and plans are hatched as detective Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson) draws closer to uncovering the truth.
Triple 9 is certainly a slick, stylish thriller. This is a glossier directorial style than Hillcoat usually deploys and is lightyears away from the bleakness of The Road or the mud-under-fingernails grit of Lawless. Unfortunately, it has the side effect of blunting Hillcoat as a filmmaker. Triple 9 feels like a film that could’ve been made by just about any action filmmaker currently jobbing around Hollywood, shorn of any unique vision.
You ain’t gonna make a difference. Your job is to out-monster the monster and make it home at the end of the night.
That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to enjoy. The central plot paints an interesting picture of an underworld in which cops pursue casual criminality when they’re not on duty and the conceit of using a “triple nine” call to divert attention from a crime is innovative. However, the script gets bogged down in spending time with a wider conspiracy involving Kate Winslet’s comically bad Russian mafia member and having the central crew screw each other over in a tangled web of betrayals. Triple 9 is a film crying out for a modicum of simplicity.
Chiwetel Ejiofor does a solid job of holding the film together, with a central performance that brings some emotion to a film that too often consists of Aaron Paul staggering around and ruining stuff. Woody Harrelson, meanwhile, puts in a lazy turn that’s all the more depressing given his recent work in the rather Hillcoat-esque Out of the Furnace. Casey Affleck, meanwhile, is terrific as the determined good cop who simply wants to do his job when those around him have ulterior motives.
Triple 9 is at its best in the second act as plans gradually come together for the team’s most difficult heist. The sense that all of their lives and careers could come crumbling down at any moment is compelling and powers some tense sequences. The pay-off, however, feels like standard issue crime thriller carnage, in which bullets fly, blood splatters and no one can be trusted.
Cops look after cops – same as you special ops do.
It’s a shame that Triple 9 fails to evoke the same grit and sense of palpable darkness of John Hillcoat’s best directorial work. The film feels like a step into the mainstream for a director who is better on the fringes, where he has the freedom to satisfy his darkest urges. It’s not a total failure and has a fair amount of sharp edges, but it is perhaps a little too blunt to fully succeed.
Pop or Poop?
A great cast given interesting roles help Triple 9 to be a decent crime thriller. Unfortunately, though, it lacks the depth and potency of the director’s best work and, as such, it feels a little like a lot of style, without nearly enough substance. Casey Affleck stands out with a complex performance, whilst Kate Winslet stutters as a bizarrely accented mob figure.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.