Triple 9 is nothing if not muddled. Toplined by an all-star cast including Kate Winslet and Woody Harrelson, John Hillcoat’s latest is a messy and unsophisticated cop drama that quickly stumbles into a spiritless slumber. Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his crack band of crooked cops and ex-military professionals – Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus and Clifton Collins Jr. – pull off a bank heist for Russian mafia matriarch Irina (Kate Winslet) despite one or two hiccups. But instead of walking away scot-free, the crew are blackmailed into another, riskier heist on Homeland Security.
To create a long enough distraction, their only hope is to trigger an ‘officer down’ code, which is where new police recruit Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) enters the equation. After a stand-out opening bank robbery that’s tense and pulsating, mostly due to Atticus Ross’ synth-laden score, Triple 9 becomes a victim of its own inane script. All the usual cop tropes are there – and that’s part of the problem. Rarely does screenwriter Matt Cook throw anything at the page that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. The various twists can be seen a mile off and the stumbling blocks – Marcus’ increasing indecisiveness as to whether or not he can shoot his partner and one or two deaths – are stock to this kind of film. It’s as if several good crime thrillers have been cobbled together with the life sucked out of them. As bland as the plot is, the characters are worse. None of them – not Ejiofor’s Michael with his complicated ties to Irina, nor Irina herself – are shaded with any depth or emotion for audiences to latch onto. They’re mere cutouts; fools going through the motions with no way of redemption further down the line.
The lack of characterisation is particularly noticeable when a key cast member dies and the implications on his brother aren’t explored in the way they should. That said, the actors who play these figures do the best with the material they’re awarded. Mackie manages to convey some degree of personality as Marcus, while Affleck slots into the good cop persona with ease, his relationship with Harrelson’s detective some of the film’s most human. Unfortunately, Winslet’s performance is too larger than life to bear any meaning. Irina isn’t half as intimidating as she’d like to be and instead resonates as rather silly and ridiculous – much in the same way as Triple 9 as a whole.
Jamie Neish | @EmptyScreens