Movie Review: Triple 9
Australian director John Hillcoat’s got four features under his belt now, and I’m a massive fan of the previous three. All four of them share a few things, most prominently brutality and the darker side of humanity. What his latest film Triple 9 is noticeably different for is a modern setting; both The Proposition and Lawless are tales of the past and The Road is set in the bleak, bleak future. I wasn’t sure how his style would translate to a current story, but the short version is that it’s gritty, dark, and intense in ways his other films couldn’t capture. This is where Heat and Training Day meets The Town, and all of those films are better as a whole. Don’t count it out though.
The cast is…insane. So many great actors tossed into one story with an equal many characters is bound to be complex, and Triple 9 certainly is. A group of ex and current police and military (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr., Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus) are thrown together in order to pull off a daytime bank heist to steal a deposit box for the Jewish Russian mafia (!) headed by Irina Vaslov (Kate Winslet). Turns out the robbers’ leader Michael (Ejiofor) has a familial connection to the mob that has him on the line, and they want another job to be done before the gang can get paid and Michael can have want he wants. This job requires a large window of time in order to be pulled off, and the idea is sprung to perform a “999” — police code for officer down. This leads to the other side of the story involving detective Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) who is a new partner to covert-crook Marcus Belmont (Mackie) and Allen is the nephew of Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), a weathered, hard-boiled type who has all the cynicism that comes with the territory. I’ve just now realized how difficult it is to describe the story here, but ALL of this comes to a bloody, dirty conclusion as you might expect. Also, The Wire’s Omar, Michael Kenneth Williams, plays a brief but memorable role as a character named Sweet Pea.
There is a lot of tension and suspense packed in here even if you see most of it coming — for every moment that feels telegraphed due to the genre (and there are a lot), there are occasionally shocks and awe to be had that kept me engaged. One thing that is most impressive is the look. The film is shot and lit perfectly, while Hillcoat’s ever impressive eye for framing and scope is on display in a new way given the setting. The cast is pretty great with exception to Kate Winslet’s head scratching character choices. That character specifically has a murky ambition or purpose, as do a lot of the characters the movie tries to juggle, which is the main problem. It’s difficult to keep track of everyone let alone try to figure them all out as characters rather than caricatures. It’s actually impressive that it doesn’t feel like a disaster because of this, but it’s a perfectly serviceable thriller.
The unifying theme in the previous Hillcoat films is easy to find: survival. Each movie approaches the theme differently, but at the core it’s the same. Whether it’s trying to come back from near-death, living in a post-apocalypse or trying to be prosperous in the prohibition era, it’s making your way and surviving. That’s missing in Triple 9 and I’m not sure why. The movie goes down easy but with a bizarre ending moment that makes me feel like there was more going on that I saw on the surface. I’m intrigued if that’s the case or if it’s just…weird. I enjoyed the movie and I think a lot of others will too, but there’s not a noticeable depth that I was hoping for given the titular plot device is so interesting and complex.
Stellar cast, terrific look, plenty of violent thrills.
Pretty simplistic, amalgam of a lot of better crime films, too many characters without much definition.