A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.
‘Triple 9’, the latest film from Australian director John Hillcoat, features a stellar cast and an intriguing setup based around police code for an officer shooting. This is a story of corrupt cops, criminal organisations and shady characters and the premise has a lot to like, but somewhere along the way ‘Triple 9’ gets wrapped up in its own story and doesn’t fully deliver on its promise. This is a good film that could have been a great film similar to the likes of ‘Heat’ or ‘The Town’, but the narrative is disjointed and the great concept isn’t matched by its execution.
The film begins with one of many exciting action sequences as a gang of criminals rob a bank with organised precision, escaping the cops and retreating to an underground garage. It becomes evident early on that the gang is a collection of career criminals (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus) and corrupt cops (Clifton Collins Jr., Anthony Mackie), with a screwup (Aaron Paul) thrown in. The leader of the group is Michael Belmont (Ejiofor), a criminal who got involved with the sister of a Russian mob boss (Kate Winslet), and as a result is being blackmailed into carrying out heists on behalf of the Russian mafia. On the other side of the story, we follow Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) and his protégé and relation Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a rookie cop who gets partnered with Marcus Atwood (Mackie). Simple right? One of the main issues with ‘Triple 9’ is that it features a series of well executed action sequences and is well directed throughout, but the narrative is often difficult to follow and at times it feels as if the film would have benefited from a longer runtime and a bit of breathing space.
The performances are hit and miss, with Affleck and Ejiofor the high points, the disappointing Kate Winslet unconvincing as a Russian mob boss and Woody Harrelson on autopilot, essentially playing the same character’s he’s played many times before, and better. We never spend enough time with any of the film’s core characters and that lack of development means it’s hard to root for any of them. The film fares a lot better in terms of atmosphere, built up by Hillcoat’s strong direction, emitting a constant sense of danger and paranoia that engulfs every character in the film’s orbit. The world building is strong but it doesn’t feel like we spend enough time in it and when the payoffs do come, they feel rushed and unsatisfying. The third act in particular goes by in a whirlwind and not in a good way with several moments that should be major events lacking the set up required to have a meaningful impact. There are tantalising threads developed such as the fresh partnership between Mackie’s corrupt cop and Affleck’s rookie, but like many relationships in the film it would have benefited from an extra couple of scenes to flesh out their part of the story.
I enjoyed ‘Triple 9’ overall, largely through the genre setting and the strong premise, but the delivery is poor, largely hindered by a poor screenplay that fails to connect this sprawling crime saga into a satisfying narrative. Enjoyable, but disappointing.
Directed By: John Hillcoat
Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Clifton Collins Jr., Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams and Kate Winslet