Director John Hillcoat's (Lawless; The Road) film has little character building, because the story, written by Matt Cook, overflows with people, and quickly moves to entertaining action sequences. Ejiofor plays Michael Atwood, an ex-special forces agent, leading a group of dirty cops (Mackie & Clifton Collins Jr.) and ex-military (Reedus & Paul) to rob a banks safety deposit box for the Russian mafia. Pulling the strings is the cold blooded- Irina Vlaslov, played by Winslet, whose character should have her own movie. She is like a WWE villain, holding Michael's son hostage from him, while looking like an 80's rock star with her big hair, an enormous gold Star of David necklace, and a Russian accent that sounds like the remains of her award winning performance in Steve Jobs.
After the success of their first heist, it was all a ploy to pull them along for another run, only this time, they must break into a Department of Homeland Security building to steal documents that will help get Irinia’s husband out of a Russian prison. The best idea they can come up with is a messy plan to commit a “999”, which is police code for “officer down”. Dirty cop Marcus (Anthony Mackie) plans to set up his fresh new partner Chris (Affleck) to be shot, and while this lures the police away, it'll leave them open to get the files. It is the type of sure fire plan that will get these guys killed, especially while Chris’s Uncle Jeffrey (Harrelson) is the detective hot on their tail, or just because in these type of movies, nothing goes as planned.
It must be said that Triple 9 is an extremely violent film. Dimly lit, this is not the kind of enjoyable cops & robbers “shoot 'em up” action, but instead the uncomfortable kind of violence that involves scenes where a baby is abandoned in a room, while police officers siege on a drug dealers apartment complex. I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained, because the set pieces resemble well done films like Training Day or last years drug cartel thriller Sicario. The opening bank robbery is swift with tension, as their loot is marked and red smoke smothers them inside their escape van, while they improvise their getaway. Or later, when Chris and Marcus work together to take down a drug dealer in a foot chase, that is reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat, but lacking in the purpose or style that a movie like that includes. It all gives a boost of energy, but is also depressing when you think about how ugly the world these characters live in.
In the final act the wheels fall off, where resolution is given to small characters that don't deserve it, and not enough justice is given for the one's we care about. The performances from Ejiofor, Affleck, and Mackie are solid shells of characters. I do think there was a good movie buried beneath all of this film's problems. It is a shame really, because Triple 9 is the type of gritty movie that with a bit more care, I would praise.
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: TRIPLE 9
STARRING: CHIWETEL EJIOFOR; CASEY AFFLECK; KATE WINSLET; ANTHONY MACKIE; AARON PAUL
DIRECTED BY: JOHN HILLCOAT
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS
Triple 9 has a cast of Oscar winners, nominees, big names in television, Marvel superheroes, and the new Wonder Woman, yet with one hell of a collection of actors, we get a movie that feels cluttered and in need of someone to say “less is more.” Get a load of the actors in this cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, and even Woody Harrelson gets in on the action for this vicious, bloody, heist thriller. They are the chess pieces of a film that is violently ugly, in need of a final re-write, and twenty minutes of run time cut. Only then, would Triple 9 be an impressive feature.