Remember when John Hillcoat’s The Road was snubbed at the Academy Awards? It’s only a short time since Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kate Winslet were grabbing Oscar and BAFTA statuettes while Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus were picking up, and nominated, for Emmys and Saturns. Then Hillcoat’s Triple 9 arrives.
Packaged as a taught thriller, with dirty cops and sincere thieves, Triple 9 mixes a pot of terrific talent and seems to overcook the brew. Something is missing and the fast-action plot clearly forgot to include a meaningful story, reducing the offering to an easily dismissed, rough ride, with little to champion when the credits roll.
Triple 9 opens as corrupt cops conduct a heist, with a stylistic visual flourish as red-paint bursts open mid-getaway. Guns are shoved in faces and money’s dragged off a shiny counter and into a sports bag. Pseudo-disguises, with a little edge (sunglasses on a balaclava) but nowhere near as memorable as The Dark Knight, The Town and Heat. New guy, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) joins the team “from Zone 2”, and he’s paired up with cop-thief Marcus Atwood (Anthony Mackie). Soon realising that most police – including his Uncle (Woody Harrelson) – are all a little sneaky, Allen can hold his own in this macho environment. But Uncle Woody is all we have, and after some posturing and bold statements, it is clear that he’s a conflicted decent guy, of sorts. Leading the heist crew, Terrell Tompkins (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is in a bind as he desperately wants to be with his son, a child who is for all intents and purposes, kidnapped by Russian wife-of-the-boss Idrina (Kate Winslet). Her sister, Tompkins former lover and mother of his child, is played by up-and-coming Wonder Woman Gal Gadot – an actress who couldn’t look less like Kate Winslet.
Triple 9 ultimately doesn’t aspire to anything. This is a film that people will recommend with a shrug of the shoulders. Yeah, s’alright; It’s “good fun”. Every character holds motives and arcs, however dull they may be. Perhaps every actor only required a few days shooting in order to take home the paycheck? If you like The Walking Dead, The Wire or Breaking Bad, Triple 9 has cast your favourite actor somehow. But nothing resonates. It doesn’t fight a cause or challenge you. The assumption that you’re somehow hooked merely on a who’s-gonna-die-next principle is a flawed selling point when everyone is unlikeable and has as much character as a speck of blood on the curb. A fantastic cast is on display but the cops-are-bad story is weak.
In America, cops are already the villain. With a total of 1,134 Americans killed by police officers in 2015, there is a tale about corrupt poh-leece waiting to be told. Triple 9 simplifies racist gangsters and when officers argue about “what you should do” in criminal hotspots, it is only surface-level nods without a revealing truth. Triple 9 shares a surveillance-savvy opening, akin to Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State. While Scott’s pseudo-sequel to The Conversation is critical of government threats, Triple 9 seems to be castrated by the inevitable controversy such criticisms would generate.
This is a calculated manufactured movie, with all the boxes ticked. The concoction of irrelevant news-nuggets and unclear urban issues are chosen because they look relevant, not because the film is. Triple 9 does look slick and glossy, holding court as strong, macho men angrily shout and fight. Many will be pulled to the cinema for this alone. But Casey Affleck’s rookie with a heart of gold proves how the blurred sense of right and wrong is only applied to the supporting cast – of course, a money-making hit needs a central nice guy. Triple 9 hits the right beats but, like the criminals robbing the bank, it asks for nothing more than your money. No depth or considered criticism, just guns, guys and big bucks.
This post was originally published on Flickering Myth