A top tier cast in search of a film, Triple 9 is a real wasted opportunity. This could have been a strong and gritty crime drama, but aside from one standout sequence, it’s almost all dead on arrival. Director John Hillcoat and writer Matt Cook were able to attract an A-list group of actors to the project, which should have been seen as a sign of quality. Instead, it just makes you question their agents and logic. When you can’t even enjoy the prospect of Kate Winslet chewing the scenery as a Russian mob boss or Casey Affleck getting something close to a leading role, something has gone wrong. Triple 9 is just one missed opportunity after the other, turning into as generic a crime flick as it can be. Each and every single plot twist you’ll see coming a mile away. Alas, Triple 9 devolves into silly mediocrity before too long.
We open with a bank heist, one we learn is being committed by a very specific crew. Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) leads the team, along with a fellow ex Special Forces soldier Russel Welch (Norman Reedus). There’s also Russel’s brother Gabe (Aaron Paul), who is a former cop, along with current police officers Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.). They’re pulling this job for Irina Vlaslov (Winslet), the wife of a powerful but currently jailed crime lord, with the added bonus of Irina’s sister Elena (Gal Gadot) being the mother of Michael’s young son. When Irina instructs Michael to pull off one more operation that could free her husband, this one being an incredibly dangerous hit on a government building, desperate measures are taken. The crew decides that a “Triple 9” is necessary, which is the code for an officer being shot. They’re going to set up Marcus’ straight laced partner Chris Allen (Affleck), who is new on the force and the nephew of a higher up (Woody Harrelson). When they tag Chris, everyone will race to the scene, leaving them free to do their thing. Of course, complications begin to mount quickly, putting everyone at each other’s throats and leaving Chris to start figuring out that something is going on. It might sound like it could be a nifty little thriller, but it falls apart quick.
It’s hard to believe that a cast as strong as this one could be so disappointing. If I were to tell you that there was a film starring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, and Kate Winslet, you’d expect an Academy Award contender. What we’re left with is just utterly forgettable work. Affleck, Ejiofor, and Mackie are competent, but unspectacular, with Affleck probably faring the best. Clifton Collins, Jr., Harrelson, Paul, and Norman Reedus, are utterly wasted, and that’s being generous. As for Winslet, she’s chewing the scenery, but somehow doing it in a subdued way that seems to echo her boredom with the project. The rest of the cast includes the aforementioned Gal Gadot, along with the likes of Teresa Palmer and Michael Kenneth Williams, but are all swallowed up by the crummy script.
I’m sure that Director John Hillcoat had some type of attraction to Matt Cook’s Black Listed screenplay, but Triple 9 is quite frankly pretty poorly written. The characters are paper-thin, motivated by random decisions on the part of Cook, and discarded without a second thought. That’s not even taking into account how ridiculous the subplots are here. Hillcoat is able to elevate a single sequence, namely an apartment breach that’s done in a number of long takes, but not before moving on to a confusing and poorly shot shoot out. There’s some nimble editing by Dylan Tichenor, but he’s merely putting lipstick on a pig at this point.
Overall, Triple 9 is an easy to forget genre picture that would have likely been better going straight to DVD had it not been filled with A-listers. As it stands, we’ll be able to forget about this one in short order. Triple 9 fails on most levels, taking what could have been an exciting and gritty premise and just making something boring and ugly instead. What a waste of time.
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