Triple 9

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

John Hillcoat

Starring

Casey Affleck Chiwetel Ejiofor Kate Winslet

Anticipation.

John Hillcoat’s long-in-the-pipeline follow-up to 2012’s Lawless.

Enjoyment.

Some great technical flourishes and action choreography, but little to sink your teeth into.

In Retrospect.

The wait for Hillcoat to produce a truly great film continues.

Australian director John Hillcoat assembles an A-list crack squad for this gritty by-the-numbers heist flick.

Like a gorgeous, aerodynamic sports car that’s been saddled with a 50cc go-kart engine, John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 offers – as the trade film critics like to say – a boffo tech package, but little more than flash. Casey Affleck is our moral compass through the mean streets of Atlanta, Georgia, where gang warfare in the projects is the smallest of small fry compared to some of the dodgy deeds being undertaken by the city’s finest.

Hillcoat hits us between the solar plexus with an opening scene that plunges the viewer directly into a world of automatic weapons, hockey masks and miniature explosives. Ex black-ops trooper Terrell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) heads up a crew of bent coppers (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr) and dastardly crims (Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus) on a highly specific bank heist where the modest haul is the contents of a single locker in the vault. On this occasion, their on-the-job greed doesn’t quite lead them to ruin, but it does mean that Russian mafia moll Irina (Kate Winslet) has got one last task for them before she hands over the filthy lucre that’s been promised.

Casey Affleck’s stocky straight-shooter Chris becomes embroiled in this world when he becomes the target of a “triple 9” – police code for officer down. His buck-toothed, coke-hoovering guardian angel is played by Woody Harrelson, an older detective whose brash sartorial trademark is a stars-and-stripes neck-tie. The cogs all begin to turn and hateful characters place one another into awkward, and potentially deadly, positions. All the while, those lawmen still on the side of justice slowly close the net on their prey.

As the film glides into its second half, pure plot mechanics take over and we’re left with a bunch of screaming meat puppets shooting guns at one another. Hillcoat takes such pains to try and make his tricksy plot work, that he forgets to make the movie about anything, and also to give the characters a sense of depth or humanity. We’re constantly being told what’s at stake, but never made to feel that these people deserve the fruits of their endeavours.

Ejiofor only appears to be involved to ensure the safety of his child, who Irina has taken captive, though it’s never made clear why you’d want this murderous maniac to get what he wants. It’s hardly a chore to sit through, but you do feel that Hillcoat was striving for something grander than he actually ended up with.

Published 17 Feb 2016

Anticipation.

John Hillcoat’s long-in-the-pipeline follow-up to 2012’s Lawless.

Enjoyment.

Some great technical flourishes and action choreography, but little to sink your teeth into.

In Retrospect.

The wait for Hillcoat to produce a truly great film continues.

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