Triple 9 (2016)
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie
Bros to the Close
Reviewed by Mason Manuel
There is nothing especially unique about a film centering around dirty cops, but a killer script and all-star cast make what could have been mundane a unique experience. Pair that along with expert director John Hillcote (The Road) and you get an entertaining crime drama that shows even those we rely on for protection can fall.
The code behind the title Triple 9 comes from police code for an officer down. Our story follows a group of dirty cops and ex Spec-Ops banding together to do less than legal jobs for the Russian Hasidic Jew Mafia. That may sound like a rather odd combination for tyrannical crime lords but their menacing presence lead by a sinister mobster wife (played by a near unrecognizable Kate Winslet) makes them plenty dangerous.
Most of the cast members do a fantastic job bringing their roles to life, especially the baddies. We are introduced to our gang of scallywags in a tense opening sequence bank heist. Terrell Tompkins (Five Years a Slave’s Chiwetel Ejiofor) leads the group as a man willing to do what needs to be done for a prize, with a glimpse of humanity through him being a father as well. He is joined by morally conflicted Marcus (Anthony Mackie), the Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus as the mastermind planner, a greasy looking Aaron Paul relapsing into his druggy doped out self in Breaking Bad, and Clifton Collins Jr. who is never quite fleshed out as much as I would like save for the fact that he has no qualms with killing a cop. For the most part it’s a terrific cast that plays well off each other, with everyone in a constant need for alpha dog dominance while being acutely aware that the strength of the wolf comes from the pack. The good guys are a little worse off in terms of depth. Woody Harrelson’s drug loving alcoholic police captain feels like a watered down take on his old True Detective character while the normally underrated Casey Affleck is only there to be a stark foil to our evil doers and constantly chew gum to look cool. If they were given more screen time they may have fared better but this isn’t a story about the good guys; we’re on the side of the devils this time.
The story is broken up into 3 distinct parts each with their own respective heist. These heists are easily the best parts of the film as each one feels gritty and meticulously shot. It starts off with a high octane chase through a crowded highway with the team trying to disarm a dye pack and simultaneously get to work on time to keep their cover from being blown. The danger feels palpable and you can’t help but root for the thieves. This becomes especially difficult as we learn more about their personal lives. Many of these men have family ties, or at least ties to each other. Either having served in wars together or being police, the crew has a familial sense that is constantly felt. However, getting to learn about their characters is a VERY slow burn that will be underwhelming for some. But as we get closer and closer to the final act, the stakes get stacked so high that the tension is ever present in every frame.
Triple 9 takes the paint by the numbers “good cops go bad” and turns it on its head; the characters and story for the most part all mesh together to make an intense two hours that will be enjoyable for thrill seekers. The pieces may be better than the sum of its parts and it won’t take home any awards, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed. RDR gives Triple 9 a 6.7 out of 10.