Cops and Robbers
When I was making the list for my top 20 most anticipated films of 2016, for a while I had “Triple 9” in my top 10. So, needless to say I was looking forward to this movie a lot. I love a good crime thriller as much as I love a good fantasy epic (which I have to say comes far less often then the former). “Triple 9” isn’t quite perfect and doesn’t succeed on its lofty standards it sets for itself. But, I have to say I came out thoroughly enjoying this tense, gritty and well acted thriller. “Triple 9” doesn’t rewrite the rules and does fall back on some tried and true clichés (not to mention a little bit of an anti climatic ending) but I thought for this is superbly done with some truly memorable sequences.
This is director John Hillcoat’s fourth directorial feature and in many ways this is the next step for him as a filmmaker. While it seems like with each passing film, the production becomes more elaborate and complex. And here Hillcoat really jumps off the diving board in attempting to craft some blood rushing action scenes. Hillcoat’s style is intact from films like “Lawless” and “The Road”. While a lot of his previous films are coated with a heavy dose of hard hitting violence this is blends realism with well choreographed heist scenes.
It’s clear though “Triple 9” is not a movie for everyone. While a heist movie like Ben Affleck’s “The Town” has a little bit of a broader appeal (along with Michael Mann’s “Heat”), “Triple 9” themes of violence, dirty cops and darkness puts this movie at a very heavy tone that isn’t meant to leave you smiling. “Triple 9” has the grittiness to put in the league with a “Departed” but the nihilism themes of a David Fincher film. Morality plays a big part of “Triple 9” because there are some good intentions on both sides of the law.
This sort of tone is very refreshing for a genre that can have a hard time distancing different films from one another. I think that’s what I loved about this film, the atmosphere it’s paints. “Triple 9” very much has its own feel and it will draw you into the urgency and weight the characters are under. Bank heists are just the start for a 5 man crew when the Russian mob wants them to rob a building of homeland security. 2 on the crew are dirty cops and plan to pull a 999, which is the code for office down. Killing a cop would send the entire police force to that area leaving that building virtually unguarded. But, that won’t stop the crew from tearing each other apart.
I’d say the first hour of this movie is masterful. The pacing keeps the tensions high while leaving time to introduce some of the characters and their motives. Some are done better than others with some of the characters are relegated to just being two dimensional. Screenwriter Matt Cook though wisely puts a few out into the forefront of the story and develops them with minimalistic exposition and instead chooses to develop them through actions. The saying actions speak louder than words would be applicable here. We’re introduce to a new Cop on the force, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) and is paired with one of the dirty cops, Jeffery (Anthony Mackie). Unfortunately for Chris, he begins to get in the way of the crew’s plans and becomes a prime target for the 999. Stone sets up the character relationship and motivations quickly and effectively. Even the characters that less developed you at the very least have an understanding for why they are doing what they are.
The second half of the film is still very good but it drops the ball in a few key spots. Kate Winslet plays a Russian mob boss and when she is first introduced it’s clear she has a relationship with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Michael and Gal Gadot’s Irina. What that exactly is, isn’t very clear. You expect it to develop more as the film progresses but ultimately ends in a somewhat confusing state of affairs. The whole Russian mob aspect in the film, while vital, is sort of just here as a way to drive the plot and the story. It doesn’t FEEL essential even though it really is. It also doesn’t go into detail what they have to steal which akin to “Mission Impossible III” and it’s “white rabbit” plot device.
This being said the second half is filled with exciting and tension packed moments. There is a raid on a drug dealer’s home that feel authentic and the final heist is a thrilling and suspenseful sequence. Characters begin to turn on one another, there are a few clever twists but this second half sometimes does become a bit too conventional. One could argue however Hillcoat seems like he is updating the cop genre (clichés and all) for this more modern appeal.
Director John Hillcoat also assembles one of the best casts I’ve seen for a movie in recent years. Casey Affleck takes the lead in this film and just goes and shows he deserves bigger and more standout roles. Affleck owns the screen with every scene he is in. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, and Gal Gadot all do a good job in the movie. Clifton Collins Jr. is another standout for me. However the two veteran performers Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet overcook their performances. Perhaps Harrelson ‘s darkly over the top performance was just the writing in the character but I can’t say I loved him here . Winslet is unrecognizable in this role but all she does is play the stereotypical Russian bad guy (or in this case a bad woman).
I did find the ending to be a bit anti climatic simply because I didn’t feel it fit with the ongoing story arc and build up that was established. “Triple 9” may not have been as ambitious as it likes to think it is and doesn’t fire all the right bullets to become a new modern crime epic. However “Triple 9” works completely a tense and gritty thrill ride with a cast of mostly terrific performances. Some sequences are quite memorable and will stick with you after the film is over and for fans of the genre they won’t be displeased.