Despite being patchy in some parts, Triple 9 is an enjoyable film.
“Out here there is no good, there is no bad. To survive out here you gotta out-monster the monster. Can you do that?” – Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen
In some respects, Triple 9 has been unfairly compared to Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. Both films are highly intense, edge of your seat thrillers but in my honest opinion, Sicario fares better largely due to the unnerving nature of the film. However Triple 9 does stand on its own merits. Directed by John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless) this is a gritty portrayal of ‘cops and robbers’. The morality goes out the window and quickly descends into a chaotic battleground of false promises, allegiances and codes.
Critics have said that this film reminded them of Heat which honestly is correct but at the same time no. Heat has to be one of the greatest heist movies ever made. It’s in a league of its own and try as it may, no film could honestly touch it.
The Town and Training Day in my opinion are the most appropriate resemblance to Triple 9. Both films delve into the duality of a person and the choices that they make. Triple 9‘s exploration and attention is aimed at five individuals – Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.), Russell Welch (Norman Reedus) and his brother Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul).
There’s no getting away from it but the film does starts off shaky. We’re quickly thrown into the world of these characters as they discuss a new job opportunity. Fast forward and the film delivers its first major pay off – a cinematic and well executed bank heist. Everything about the opening is about escalation – just when you thought you can guess what is about to happen, something unexpected occurs, building up the tension. As smooth as the robbery was, it’s the crew that ends up being caught “red-handed” during their getaway when Gabe greedily and accidentally grabs the bank’s decoy money.
But like all plans, there can be unexpected developments. The heist was meant to be the last one, especially for Atwood who wants to move on with a new life with his child after a career in the military. But he’s forcefully coaxed into another robbery by the wife of a Russian mob boss, Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet).
With a high-profile and multi-talented cast, Triple 9 feels more of a character driven movie than an action spectacle.
Everything happens in quick succession that it does take the film a while to settle down in order to follow the multiple storylines. I wouldn’t blame you if you felt the experience was a little jarring and disjointed, trying to work out the overall connection and how it relates to the eventual plan. We see contrasting points of view from the crew’s perspective, trying to hide their double lives especially as two of them are law enforcement officers, the investigating cops in Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) and his uncle, Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) and the mobsters – Irina and her sister, Elena Vlaslov (Gal Gadot).
The film’s subject matter is nothing new in terms of corruption, morals and ethics. It’s not a game changer. There’s nothing ground breaking or instrumental that sets this film apart from other heist movies. But Triple 9 is certainly an unconventional film and nothing is handled in a straightforward manner when dealing with those different perspectives. There’s not many likeable characters you would root for or support. In essence, each character has their pride, their flaws and their demons, trying to protect what they have and their reputation. The only character that goes against that grain is Chris Allen who is the rookie, trying to understand this world. He enters situations with a naivety trying to enforce the law but is new to the street code.
But what this film will come down to is execution.
With so many scenarios in play, when you have so many recognisable faces all in one film, it begs the question – how do you give them all notable and developed screen time? In that respect, the film sadly suffers on that front when it’s clearly searching for balance and focus.
Triple 9 does have some outstanding performances, most notably from Chiwetel’s Atwood. His desperate character is certainly the most developed out of the film because he has the most to lose out of all the crew members. He will do what it takes to get what he wants. Mackie’s Belmont questions the morality of the plan whilst protecting his cover from his new partner. Harrelson’s Allen brings the much needed humour to a dark and gloomy story. But it’s Kate Winslet’s Irina that steals the show. Winslet does the dodgiest Russian accent you will hear on screen but it’s a role which you don’t see her play often. You can tell she had some fun, playing a character out of her comfort zone and someone you don’t want to mess with which I enjoyed seeing.
The downside to that comes in the Welch brothers. Norman Reedus is not on screen long enough (you’ll know why when you watch the film) and Aaron Paul’s Gabe is too similar to Jesse from Breaking Bad, participating in things that gets him or others into trouble. Whilst both characters do have dramatic moments, driving the next phase and morality of the heist, they are clearly underdeveloped and lacked the substance to really care about them.
“I don’t have a problem taking out a cop. I’ll do a cop just like…
[he snaps his finger]” – Franco Rodriguez
One of the biggest strengths of Triple 9 and director John Hillcoat is that gritty realism. Hillcoat doesn’t glamorise the violence. He presents it for what it is and at times it is shocking and gruesome, questioning the mentality of humanity of the cruel things we can do to one another.
But it’s also a film that will constantly keep you guessing at what happens next. The action is intense and it’s unpredictable, especially in the final third of the film when the heist is in motion and everything is escalating, resulting in a tense and final conclusion.
Triple 9 is not a perfect film nor a masterpiece. Given the cast attached to it, you will expect more especially as there’s so much to focus on which results in a few outstanding plot holes.
But on the other hand, whilst it never reaches the heights of The Town and Training Day, Triple 9 is an enjoyable film and there’s certainly enough good performances, action scenes and surprises that will keep you interested right through to the end.