Director: John Hillcoat Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofer, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet Running Time: 115 minutes
Here’s an exercise: take 20 cop/crime films that have come out since Heat. Out of each of those, pick one scene at random, and edit them together in whatever order you like. Congratulations, you have now created Triple 9, a film by John Hillcoat about crooked cops, rookie cops, one last job, not knowing who you can trust and so on and so on and so on and bleeurrgh. Triple 9 is so determined not to show you anything that you haven’t seen before that it’s closest cinematic equivalent is a CCTV camera with a photograph taped over the lens, which may actually be one of the only older-than-dirt crime thriller cliches that isn’t found in the film itself.
As far back as 2010, the script for Triple 9 was found on the Black List, the list with a very inflated reputation considering that it is by its very premise a collection of screenplays not quite good enough to get made. It probably could have gone through a few more drafts while it was sitting on that list, considering how Triple 9‘s idea of a fresh approach is to make the Russian mafia boogeymen also part Jewish. Chiwetel Ejiofor heads up a heist team comprised partly of disgraced criminals and partly of corrupt cops but entirely of paycheque collecting actors who can do better, including Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins Jr, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul and Aaron Paul’s cocky anime rival haircut. Where other films have been accused of glorifying the violence and glamorising the gains of a life of crime, Triple 9 makes the lives of these bank robbers look thoroughly miserable. In fact it makes the lives of just about everybody look thoroughly miserable, but the bank robbers in particular, they spend all their time growling menacingly at each other, berating each other and in the end (spoiler alert), killing each other.
After an opening bank robbery sequence that sets the filmmaking stage by being simultaneously plodding and overly busy, Ejiofor and his contentious crew look to be all set, but there’s an unfortunate complication. Their money is being withheld by dodgy-accented ice queen Kate Winslet until they complete #OneLastJob, which will help get her husband out of the gulag Putin put him in (because he’s so afraid of him, bien sur). The job is of course, nearly impossible, which is what leads to the ‘Triple 9’ plan. Take out a cop and distract the entire police force of Atlanta by getting them to respond to the Triple 9 call (officer down), giving the rest of the crew extra time to pull off the heist. And as luck would have it, Anthony Mackie has just been partnered up with and taken an arbitrary dislike to rookie cop Casey Affleck, who also happens to be the nephew of Sergeant Detective Woody Harrelson (acting like he wandered in off the set of True Detective but accidentally left everything that made his True Detective character interesting in the car). Will Mackie be able to take out his partner? Can Aaron Paul keep it together? Was this movie seriously under two hours long? Triple 9 poses these questions and more.
Running through the crime thriller checklist might be forgivable if any of the large and talented cast was interesting in any way, but they’re all just mopey archetypes and it’s difficult to decide which is harder to watch them struggle through: the predictable plot points or the risible dialogue. Lowlights include a Q&A session between Harrelson and his detectives that plays like an múinteoir giving out to their students for not having their homework done and a scene in which Kate Winslet talks about how Gal Gadot has a nice ass. Gadot plays Winslet’s sister. Anyone hoping to get an early look at Gadot’s acting ability before they see her as Wonder Woman is sadly out of luck, as she mostly exists as a sexy lamp for Ejiofor to growl menacingly at. All the while these non-characters plod along between set pieces that are not particularly exciting, building towards a heist that is not particularly interesting. Nobody is having any fun, no interesting points of view are expressed and again, in case you skimmed it the first time, Kate Winslet compliments her sister’s behind in a bad Israeli accent. Sometimes by-the-numbers can be appealing and this may make for simple comfort food for some, but it’s difficult to recommend something this miserable and so lacking in anything different. In the world of this film, a Triple 9 sends cops flocking like moths to a flame, but in real life, Triple 9 is to be avoided.