Triple 9 - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
JOHN Hillcoat has already delivered some hard-hitting films in the form of Outback Western The Proposition and Prohibition drama Lawless so it’s little surprise to find the director bringing the same kind of gritty intensity to the heist genre.
Triple 9 greatly benefits from the director’s assured, no-nonsense touch, as well as his ability to handle ensemble casts, thereby turning what could have been a straight-forward thriller into something much more interesting.
Based on a script by Matt Cook, the film follows a crew of dirty cops and ex-soldiers (led by Chiwetel Ejiofor and including Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul and Clifton Collins Jr) as they are forced into pulling off a seemingly impossible heist by a Russian Mob boss (Kate Winslet).
In order to increase their chances of success, the crew plan to manufacture a 999 call, the US police code for ‘officer down’, by shooting one of their own and creating a diversion. But while Mackie’s idealistic new partner (Casey Affleck) seems like the obvious contender to take the fall, circumstances soon complicate matters for everyone involved.
Triple 9 may take its cues from a wide range of genre classics, from Michael Mann’s Heat to Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day via Scorsese’s duplicitous The Departed to TV’s The Wire, but it still retains an identity of its own, thanks to Hillcoat’s smart handling of the material (which often rises above some of the more trashy elements).
Hence, while adhering to those classic elements, Triple 9 also feels very much like a film of its time. The Atlanta setting, in particular, helps to create a gritty urban feel where a sense of desperation permeates like a bad smell that won’t go away – and only intensifies whenever the heat gets turned up. The threat of violence is everywhere, while the contrasts between the rich and the poor – the higher class criminals and the banks as opposed to the poverty-stricken, gang-infested poor – are starkly drawn.
If the current US election is to be decided by which candidate can exploit the perceived anger within America at this moment in time, then Hillcoat also mines that anger for everything it’s worth here. This is a film populated by desperate men compelled to do even more desperate things, which – in turn – suits Hillcoat’s trademark direct, brutal approach to violence. It’s unflinching and any idealists are in for harsh lessons.
Even the survivors, such as Woody Harrelson’s boozy superior, wear their scepticism like a badge of honour – or, in Harrelson’s case, a stars and stripes tie. The priority is to survive by any means possible – and not to die trying.
And if the performances don’t hammer that point home hard enough, then the set pieces do – never more so than during an incredibly taut house search in which Affleck’s newbie officer leads the hunt for a heavily armed suspect in a seemingly never-ending collection of rooms. Your heart will literally be in your mouth.
Indeed, the look and feel of the film is particularly striking, thanks in no small part to cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, but also to the way in which Hillcoat injects every action sequence with an urgency that feels so immediate: whether in the opening heist or the final showdowns.
Cook’s twisting script also serves this feeling by making double cross and betrayal almost par for the course.
Indeed, if there’s a criticism, it’s that Hillcoat sometimes feels like he’s trying to cram too much into a film that boast’s an incredibly tight running time. He tosses you into the action, literally, and sweeps you along on the ride, forcing you to play catch-up at several points, while keeping up with what’s also unfolding right before your eyes. It can sometimes negate the emotional connection, creating a sense that a few more talky scenes here and there might have benefitted.
Indeed, given the quality of the cast, it wouldn’t have felt like an indulgence to be able to spend more time in the company of the characters created by Ejiofor, Harrelson, Affleck and Mackie, in particular – even though Winslet’s villain strikes the only really false note thanks to a cumbersome Russian accent.
But in the main, this is powerhouse filmmaking: gritty, pulse-pounding, intelligent and viscerally thrilling. Genre fans should have a blast.
Running time: 1hr 55mins
UK Release Date: February 19, 2016