Triple 9 (2016)

Triple 9 (2016)
  • Time: 115 min
  • Genre: Crime | Thriller
  • Director: John Hillcoat
  • Cast: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Teresa Palmer, Kate Winslet


In Triple 9, a crew of dirty cops is blackmailed by the Russian mob to execute a virtually impossible heist. The only way to pull it off is to manufacture a 999, police code for “officer down”. Their plan is turned upside down when the unsuspecting rookie they set up to die foils the attack, triggering a breakneck, action-packed finale filled with double-crosses, greed and revenge.


  • Atlanta, GA as a locale, almost projected itself to be the main character in 1981’s Sharky’s Machine. Cut to 2016 and Triple 9 (my latest review) portrays ATL as modern-day Beirut.

    With assured direction by John Hillcoat (Lawless), a capable cast, and Kate Winslet going almost unrecognizable as a Russian Mafia associate, “9” belongs in a cinematic guilty pleasure of mine: The crime thriller drama. Immediately after viewing its trailer in December, I was reminded of Illinois native/badass screenwriter David Ayer. Granted, this isn’t the David Ayer of Training Day and Street Kings (two of my favorites in the genre). Triple 9 is more like Sabotage David Ayer being Georgia-based, dirtied up, and lacking in emotional resonance not to mention secreted tension. Yeah heads are dismembered, officers go rogue, tats are abundant, and street gang initiations get mucky. “9” doesn’t however, shake you with these images. It’s just another day where actors talk tough and draw blood.

    Including a lot of troupers that fade in and out while harboring admirable screen time, Triple 9 tells the story of two corrupt cops (Anthony Mackie as Marcus Atwood and Clifton Collins, Jr. as Jorge Rodriguez) teaming up with three hardened criminals (played by actors Aaron Paul, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Norman Reedus). Their initial mission: Commit robbery by stealing a safety deposit box holding information that could help a Russky mob boss get out of prison. Their next mission: Commit the same volatile act yet with much higher stakes. The five gentlemen have to pull off a Triple 9 to get it done. A Triple 9 according to the film’s title, is a maneuver where an officer down call sends every member of the heat to the location of the relegated incident. Casey Affleck (as Chris Allen) plays the honest cop who gets embroiled in said Triple 9, Woody Harrelson (as detective Jerry Allen) plays his concerning uncle, and Hotlanta plays atmospheric chic with its vision of destitution and click click multitude. Viktor Bout called and he wants his guns back (ha ha).

    Now director John Hillcoat with his excessive use of close-ups, shoots “9” as if it’s a horror snuff pic. He turns Atlanta’s unsavory environment into a complete war zone. Most of the homicidal sequences featured are in broad daylight. And in staging several car chases and gunfights, Hillcoat renders every effect sloppy if not realistic and lifelike. His work behind the camera isn’t necessarily the problem. It’s the script by unknown Matt Cook and some rushed editing by Dylan Tichenor (Child 44) that become Triple 9’s main Achilles’ heel. Instead of effectively spouting long-winded soliloquies about (authentic) PoPo corruption and partaking in juicy one-liners (revert back to David Ayer, paragraph two), “9’s” characters mire every word of dialogue in the form of F-bombs and muddled, good cop/bad cop arguments. Bottom line: With Triple 9’s every stand alone kill, every obvious double-cross, and every exploding body part, you feel Denzel Washington did it better fifteen years ago by simply saying, “King Kong ain’t got sh*t on me!” Rating: A mixed but strong 2 and a half stars. “Number 9, number 9, number 9”. Natch.

    Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

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  • Triple 9 strives to construct a grandeur experience for its audiences through its high-speed car chases, reckless heists, and suspenseful shootouts. However, with it’s inevitable clichés, predictable plotline, and paper thin characters, the film does little to deviate from the genre it’s bequeathed to.

    Bullets fly on the Atlanta freeway as armed thieves make their getaway following a bank robbery in broad daylight. Unhappy with the results, ruthless gangster Irina Vlaslov orders the men to pull off another job. One member of the team is Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), a crooked cop who gets saddled with Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), his new but incorruptible police partner. As Belmont and his cohorts lay the groundwork for the heist, they come up with a devious plan to use Allen as their pawn.

    In light of the numerous incidents of police brutality all throughout our nation, there’s no better time to release this film because it makes a profound statement about the personas of our police officers. When the robbers in the film aren’t doing a heist, they’re working side by side with the cops. We have this broken ideology in our society that cops are supposed to be the good guys but their true characters may not be as good as we always perceive them to be. Some abuse their power by preying upon the innocent. This abuse of power is portrayed very effectively in the film as the crew attempt to pull off their most dangerous heist yet, utilizing a 9-9-9-response emergency to make their plan work.

    For a film that possesses an ensemble cast of highly qualified actors, from Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, and Norman Reedus, the only truly strong performances were by none of the actors aforementioned Rather, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kate Winsletkept stole the show with their groundbreaking performances. Without them, this film wouldn’t be able to stay afloat.

    Kate Winslet portrays a powerful Russian mafia leader and effectively fills the role of her character. She truly becomes absorbed in the character in a great and noteworthy way. Winslet and Ejiofor’s suspenseful interactions make for an emotionally attached narrative that keeps you invested in the lives of these two characters.

    This film constantly builds up tension and suspense, and then fails to deliver a climactic jolt of excitement when it’s needed most. Time is devoted too heavily on unnecessary dialogue and less on the heist sequences. Although it may be considered a crime heist film, the film brutally fails at building up the hype for its heists. There are no real scope outs, no planning on how to work around the security, or any true planning pre-heist. Instead, the crew go in guns blazing, unaware of the situation they may be getting themselves in, with hopes that their 9-9-9 emergency will buy them extra time.

    Due to the lack of true excitement during the crime sequences, you begin to enjoy the police aspect of the film more than the actual robberies. One of the best scenes in the film occurs during a house raid in which the police are granted access to infiltrate a house to detain a known suspect. This scene is incredibly suspenseful as director John Hillcoat experimented with his directing by utilizing close-ups and shaky shots to elevate the stressful conditions. This scene created a great sense of urgency, fear, and suspense, which I would have loved to see throughout the entirety of the film.

    Although Triple 9 is enjoyable, it’s nothing new from any other film in its genre. I love films that linger in your mind after you watch them. This film does not linger, the only thing about this film that does linger is the bitter conclusion which ties lose ends with bloodshed. For someone looking for a great explosive action packed film, this film is for you. If the formula works, don’t change it. For someone looking to see something new, something original from a heist thriller, Triple 9 is not the film for you.

  • Triple 9, the crime drama written by Matt Cook and directed by John Hillcoat, begins with an immediately immersive action sequence. A bank robbery evolves into a tense freeway shootout with the masked robbers, coated in the red powder from the anti-theft dye pack that exploded in their getaway car, coincidentally resembling a small army of Deadpools.

    The men behind the masks are revealed to be a group of corrupt cops and ex-soldiers beholden to the so-called “Kosher Mafia,” a Russian-Israeli cabal ruled by the formidably coiffed and unflinchingly ruthless Irina Vaslov (Kate Winslet, to whom kudos must be given for not allowing the character to totally tip into caricature). Irina reneges on their deal, ordering them to pull off an even more daring and difficult job. Or else. Or else Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the men’s leader and former Special Forces operative, loses custody of his young son he shares with Elena (Gal Gadot), Irina’s endlessly leggy sister. Or else Michael and the rest of his team – ex-cop turned junkie Gabe (Aaron Paul), streetwise officer Marcus (Anthony Mackie), and coldhearted cop Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.) – could meet the fate of their comrade Russell (Norman Reedus), whom the men discover suffocated and stabbed.

    The crew decide their best chance would be to stage a “999,” the titular phrase being police code for “officer down.” The gambit would cause the entire police team to rush to the scene of the shooting, allowing Michael and his gang enough time to pull off the robbery. Who will serve as their unwitting target? That would be rookie task-force cop Chris (Casey Affleck, whose bulked-up physique has made him less marble-mouthed), Marcus’s new partner who happens to be the upstanding nephew of cynical Detective Sergeant Allen (Woody Harrelson), the investigator of the earlier bank robbery. Needless to say, things do not go as planned. Copies amounts of blood will be shed, and the body count is such that one wonders if anyone will be left standing by film’s end.

    Triple 9 possesses a muscularity even in its rare quieter moments. Cinematographer Nicholas Karakatsanis is arguably the film’s MVP, his palette of despairing grays, gunmetal blues, and fluorescent greens dotted with the muted fuchsia of the fingerprinting powder and the variations of red on display throughout the film. His handheld camerawork during the film’s bravura set piece is exemplary as we watch Chris lead a police raid on a suspect’s apartment block. With several men behind him as he holds a bulletproof shield before him, Chris and his team silently snake in single formation through the tenement building, winding their way through narrow hallways and corridors before dispersing back onto the streets to give chase, all the while avoiding gunfire from the heavily tattooed Mexican gang members intent on protecting one of their own. Staged with military precision, the sequence is captivating from start to finish.

    As effective and excellent as Triple 9 is, it pales in comparison with the likes of Michael Mann’s Heat and television’s The Shield, both of which are the gold standard for exploring the overlap of good and bad, of the blurred lines between corrupt cop and noble criminal. Both Heat and The Shield took care to create multi-dimensional characters that could both rivet and repel. Triple 9 lacks that consideration, making it difficult to invest in any of the characters even if the actors ensure that viewer interest never wanes. Everyone plays their part well though the women, bar Winslet, are more peripheral and decorative. Look out for a great cameo by Michael Kenneth Williams.

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  • Boasting an enormously talented ensemble cast and a multi-layered story of corruption and greed set in the murky criminal world of the Russian mafia in Atlanta, John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 has the ambition of Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) but neither the scope or the running-time to convincingly pull it off. Telling the tale of a gang of hardened criminals and bent coppers coming together to pull of a heist, and then another, to save the skin of a brutal Russian mafia boss, it is hardly the most original entry into the crime genre, but manages to sneak a pass thanks to some splendid visuals and Hillcoat’s signature brutality that gives the film a unique, raw edge.

    Two cops – Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) – and three criminals – gang leader Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and brothers Russell (Norman Reedus) and Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul) – come together to rob a bank in order to retrieve a security deposit box containing evidence against the husband of mafia boss Irina (Kate Winslet). After a narrow escape, they are refused payment and are ordered to pull off another job to again retrieve data on Irina’s husband. The job is near-impossible, so the gang come up with an idea of triggering a ‘triple 9’ call, which involves all police responding to an ‘officer down’ and heading to the location of the incident, therefore diverting all attention away from them. Marcus’s new partner Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a bullheaded new recruit quickly making enemies with the Mexican gangs, is chosen as the ideal candidate.

    There’s an undeniable star power to Triple 9, and the film struggles to allow them all the chance to shine. Because of the lack of running time required to properly develop the many characters, they are either painted with incredibly broad strokes or so thinly that they are relegated to merely ‘tough good guy’ or ‘tough bad guy’. Weaving in and out of the main set the central story is crack-snorting Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), the hard-nosed yet likeable sergeant investigating the gang, who also happens to be Chris’ uncle. Just in case his questionable drug habit isn’t enough, the camera insists on showing us every bead of sweat running down his unwashed brow to reinforce the idea that this really is a tough guy who doesn’t play by the rules. Triple 9 is sadly chocked full of tired genre cliches, right down to the tacky dress-sense of Winslet’s Russian gangster, all big hair and garish outfits.

    Despite the immense talent of its actors, lazy writing and too much time spent watching these characters flexing their muscles at each other means that none really make an impression. Ejiofor certainly tries, but he fails to make us sympathise with his character, who is supposed to be the conflicted emotional core of the film, and Paul repeats his Jesse Pinkman shtick without the benefit of 5 seasons worth of character development. Things lighten up when a few heated exchanges simmer with tension, as Hillcoat makes it clear from the outset that no character is safe. With his best films, The Proposition (2005) and The Road (2009), Hillcoat demonstrated a real talent forging an extremely dark mood, brimming with atmosphere and lurking threat, but here, he manages it only fleetingly, finding little time to do so amidst an overstuffed plot.

    Rating: 3/5

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