A gang led by Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) robs a deposit box containing information that could get a Russian mafia boss out of jail. But it’s not enough, and the team is lumped with another job – and the threat of murder if they don’t complete it. The thing is, this data’s in a high security facility and there’s no way they can lift it before the cops show up. Their idea is to initiate a ‘Triple 9’ scenario – if a police officer is shot elsewhere in town, all the cops will converge there, giving the gang their opportunity. Luckily, two of the robbers (Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins, Jr.) are corrupt officers themselves, and one has an overzealous new partner (Casey Affleck) who could be the perfect target.
The key to a good genre film is to provide the familiar thrills of the genre in question while finding an original hook that sets the film apart. As a crime flick, John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 ticks these boxes – you’re never far from a car chase or a heist (the opening chase sequence is particularly suspenseful), and the ‘cops within the gang’ angle provides a fresh take on a well-worn dynamic.
What’s also noteworthy is that Triple 9 has one hell of a cast, with barely a face you won’t recognise; in addition to those mentioned already, there’s Aaron Paul and Normal Reedus, plus Woody Harrelson appears as a typically louche police captain, and Kate Winslet tries out her best Russian accent as the mafia don’s wife.
But Triple 9 fails to live up to all its promise. As all these characters are introduced, all bringing their own sub-plots and the story becomes more convoluted than it really should; this leads to the film’s big heist sequence being a let-down, as certain plot points contrive to get everyone into place, and the tension and clarity are jarred by the clumsy way in which the film cuts between all the events happening simultaneously. And then, rather than satisfyingly tying up all its character stories, the film’s final act descends into repetitive nastiness; Hillcoat and screenwriter Matt Cook seem to have decided that “and then they all shoot each other” is a satisfying ending to almost every part of the story. It’s rather nihilistic.
Triple 9, then, is reminiscent of Hillcoat’s Lawless – a promising crime movie that ends up disappointingly mediocre. Fans of the genre will find some enjoyment in the action, particularly the opening sequence, but the convoluted plot and underdeveloped characters make for difficult viewing, and an incredibly good cast is utterly wasted.
Special Features: Featurettes / Deleted Scenes / Cast Interviews
TRIPLE 9 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOHN HILLCOAT / SCREENPLAY: MATT COOK / STARRING: CHIWETEL EJIOFOR, CASEY AFFLECK, ANTHONY MACKIE, WOODY HARRELSON, AARON PAUL, KATE WINSLET / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 27TH