Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language throughout, Drug Use and some Nudity
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Matt Cook
Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, Clifton Collins Jr. & Teresa Palmer
I’ll apologize in advance for sounding harsh towards this movie. Dammit, TRIPLE 9 could have been something special. Look at that cast! Watch the red band trailer! Read the plot description! This sounds and looks like an all-around awesome flick in the vein of Michael Mann’s HEAT and Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED. Yet, TRIPLE 9 is a deeply underwhelming experience. There’s a fantastic movie hiding somewhere in this hodge-podge of solid performances, iffy writing, and stand-out moments mixed with well-worn clichés. Still, the end result is a decent crime-thriller that settles for being okay and never reaches any of its full potential.
The city of Atlanta has become a bullet-filled battleground between suicidal cops and murderous criminals. Certain individuals are playing both sides of the law. Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Franco (Clifton Collins Jr.) are two cops trying to bring in some extra cash on the side. The corrupt pair are working for sadistic Russian mobster Irina (Kate Winslet) alongside career criminals Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Russell (Norman Reedus) and Gabe (Aaron Paul). These ragtag thieves attempt a high-stakes heist, which goes south in a bad way. They manage to escape, but not before causing a very public scene.
Fresh-faced cop Chris (Casey Affleck) and grizzled detective Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson) become obsessed with these masked robbers. Meanwhile, the gang plans another high-stakes heist that needs one long distraction. This comes in the form of a Triple 9 call, meaning that a cop would need to take a bullet and possibly bite the big one for their heist to work. Marcus decides that Chris would be a perfect candidate for this scenario, but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Great moments are hidden within TRIPLE 9’s messy screenplay. The opening heist is intense, while a street chase gives a glimpse into how action-packed this movie might have been with better writing behind it. TRIPLE 9’s big problems mostly boil down to a lazy, shoddy screenplay. Mind you, the film isn’t entirely clichéd and predictable. There’s enough here to keep someone entertained. The screenplay only lacks in bringing smart thrills, fleshing out clever twists and distinguishing itself from hundreds of other corrupt cop and heist films out there. I won’t give away specific plot points, but the story frequently sets up high stakes and almost never delivers on them. This is especially true of the anti-climactic finale. It felt like someone didn’t want to have events play out naturally and simply rushed the final scenes so the movie would be over in a hurry.
Since the writing is a mixed bag of “meh,” the characters in TRIPLE 9 aren’t much better. Even with A-list talent behind them, I didn’t care about most of these people. Because these characters are mostly wooden, the grisly violence that stacks up as the film moves forward didn’t have as much of an impact as it probably should have. I felt more pity towards a silent security guard’s gruesome injury than I did for most of these cops/criminals’ deaths. The two biggest highlights of the cast are Woody Harrelson as an underutilized (but memorable) detective who has seen his fair share of shit and Clifton Collins Jr. as a scummy stone-cold psychopath.
Anthony Mackie’s Marcus is played as a disappointingly one-dimensional crooked cop, unlike Chiwetel Ejiofor’s crook with a sympathetic reason driving his despicable actions. Kate Winslet (known for playing much more upbeat roles) lets her evil side shine as a sadistic Russian mob wife and chews the scenery like it’s going out of style, making the most of her limited screen time. Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus have both shown they have great talent in other projects, but are totally wasted here as two throwaway thugs. In a sense, TRIPLE 9’s A-list ensemble cast feels like a detriment. The screen becomes overcrowded with stars being squandered in poorly written roles.
Only one performance sticks out as noticeably bad and that’s Casey Affleck as head-strong good cop Chris. We know we’re supposed to root for Chris. How do we know this? Because he’s the only main character who isn’t a total corrupt, amoral scumbag. To be fair, Affleck wasn’t given much to work with. This character feels like a cardboard cut-out of a protagonist, but that’s still a piss-poor excuse for his bland performance, seeing that every other cast member managed to make the most of their walking clichés.
TRIPLE 9 has its moments and keeps things interesting enough to be considered an okay crime-thriller. However, there was such potential shining in every second of screen time and none of it was fully realized. Aside from a handful of great sequences and solid plot twists, TRIPLE 9 never does anything truly remarkable or notably special to stand-out in an overcrowded genre of cops, robbers, and Russian criminals. Okay, maybe that last detail isn’t in every crime-thriller, but that makes this even more underwhelming. TRIPLE 9 is a decent enough way to kill two hours, but you might as well watch any number of superior crime-thrillers instead.