Atticus Ross reveals details of John Hillcoat’s Triple 9

The composer on what audiences can expect from the director’s forthcoming crime thriller.

As told to

Daniel Seddon


Following his bruising 2012 western, Lawless, Australian director John Hillcoat will return next year with his sixth feature, Triple 9. Based on a Black List screenplay by Matt Cook, the film will follow a gang of crooked police officers as they attempt to pull off a heist on behalf on the Russian mafia. The title refers to the police radio code for “officer down”, which in this instance concerns a stricken Casey Affleck.

Hillcoat’s affection for deadly, stoic anti-heroes looks set to play a major part in Triple 9, which is one of our most anticipated releases of 2016. The film’s somewhat tumultuous production, with casting changes being made at various stages, means it will land six months later than originally planned. We can’t help but wonder what the likes of Christoph Waltz and Cate Blanchett might have achieved with Hillcoat – although Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet and Chiwetel Ejiofor are hardly poor replacements. To find out more about the project, we spoke to composer Atticus Ross, for whom Triple 9 marks his latest collaboration with Hillcoat.

“John was very involved with the musical composition,” says Ross, “he had a particular vision for the music on this movie which was very raw sounding electronics; with bizarrely a saxophone in there. With this film, it was difficult because we were trying to get the story right and one would write the music, but then the scenes would change around and it all becomes redundant. So it was quite a bit of work.”

On the subject of why Hillcoat is the right guy to tackle a project like Triple 9, Ross declares, “Well, it’s mainly because he’s insane. I think John’s thing is that he brings a sense of intellectuality to the table that is his, and he’s also versed in film in a way that rarely happens. He’ll send me DVDs and references which I’ve never even fucking heard of, and I consider myself well versed!”

Primarily filmed in and around Atlanta, Triple 9 will extend Hillcoat’s relationship with the city, the director having also shot Lawless there back in 2011. So what can audiences expect from Hillcoat on this present day-set ensemble crime thriller? “Superficially, it’s a story about a mixture of good and bad police, with a kind of mob thing going on. But what it’s really about – like all of John’s films – is a journey into the depths of the human condition and how low yet how high we can go as human beings. When John goes dark and violent, it’s brutal and bloody. That’s what gives you that rush of truth.”

“He has a signature visual style that carries,” Ross continues. “When you meet him he seems like this happy, nice person but in his films there’s this intense darkness. John brings a weightiness to the subject that comes from his own experience and you can tell when someone’s faking it, you can tell if they haven’t really been to those places because it doesn’t read emotionally that way. Despite his happy demeanour on the outside, he has been to those places, so he understands the feelings he’s trying to get across.

“John is talking about a lot of things here: race; culture; police; America today. There’s a French Connection feel to it, that’s the kind of film we were looking back to. Also stuff like Bullitt; the car chases, where you feel the fucking engine of the car and things exploding everywhere but it doesn’t seem like a sound effect. That’s the level of realism John was trying to achieve. Triple 9 is a violent film and if you’re looking for a feel-good movie, this might not be the one to go to.”

Triple 9 is released Spring 2016.

Published 13 Oct 2015

Tags: John Hillcoat

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