Triple 9 (2016) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity
Running Time: 115 min.
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Clifton Collins Jr., Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer, Michelle Ang, Luis Da Silva Jr.
Small role: Michael Kenneth Williams
Director: John Hillcoat
Screenplay: Matt Cook
Review published February 27, 2016
A group of five ex-special ops guys are now working in Atlanta as criminals, but most novel about the situation is that some of them are also cops. The film opens with the group perpetrating an elaborate bank heist in order to get the contents of a specific safety deposit box for a powerful Russian/Israeli mafia. The men are told that this is the last operation they're indebted to do, but its apparently not enough for what that mafia needs, and they coerce the men to put their lives on the line one more time to extract some data from highly guarded government building that will be a magnet for all police in the area to respond to once they get a call. The men know it's far from a typical smash and grab, so they decide that what they need to do is buy some time to keep the cops at bay, and the surest way to do that is to stage a "triple 9" (officer down), which will shake up the hornets nest of police while they go in and do the heist with some leeway.
Triple 9, with its all-star cast of macho actors and shifting perspectives between cops and crooks, will immediately remind some viewers as a cross between Michael Mann's Heat, Martin Scorsese's The Departed and Antoine Fuqua's Training Day. Directed by John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition), the film might be a little too crammed with characters and plot motivations for the confines of a sub-two hour run time, though we do benefit from having recognizable actors in the roles given how many we're supposed to keep track of. Still, this is a film that could have used a bit of streamlining in its script, which could have excised some of the depictions of the home lives and familial side characters, to make sure the plot start potent and on point. Either this, or it should have been an eight-hour series for a premium cable channel, if the point was to flesh out the characters and their motivations.
The film does get some decent performances from its cast, especially from the always excellent Ejiofor (Secret in Their Eyes) as team leader Michael, while crooked Anthony Mackie (The Night Before) and clean-cut new guy Casey Affleck (The Finest Hours) give one of their better performances in support, especially when on screen together as partners on the beat. Aaron Paul (Exodus: Gods and Kings), as a loose cannon ex-cop that might undo the tight-knit criminal unit, and Woody Harrelson (Mockingjay Part 2) , as the morally dubious police sergeant in charge of investigating the bank job, fare less favorably playing caricatures that seem too cartoonish to believe in a film that supposedly plays in the real world. Kate Winslet's (Insurgent) involvement is a curiosity given how little screen time is afforded to her, and what little there is for her to do in the role when she does appear on screen other than to deliver an accent not dissimilar to the one she would get an Academy Award nomination for in Steve Jobs. In a smaller role, Gal Gadot (Furious 7) gives requisite eye candy in a role as mother to Ejiofor's child that doesn't necessitate it, and probably becomes less believable for someone with supermodel looks to inhabit.
The film does come to life through some exciting action sequences, although it peaks early, with the bank heist representing the best of the set pieces by far, especially once it goes into car chase mode downtown. However, the real problem isn't the thrills, the action, or the quality of actors so much as the piecemeal nature of the script, that seems to be cobbled together from a smorgasbord of bigger, better crime thrillers. The ending of the film is a particular letdown, featuring contrived situations that don't quite add up, then it throws to credits without much of an epilogue to mull over. It's neither as good as the aforementioned crime classics, nor is it as bad as, say, David Ayer's similarly-premised Sabotage, which also is set in Atlanta, but those who regularly feast on cop/crook action-thrillers will likely find it worth their time and money to take in.
©2016 Vince Leo