Film review: TRIPLE 9, from ‘Built For Speed’

On paper Triple 9 looked a winner. A rugged story of police corruption and organised crime helmed by a premier exponent of visceral action films, The Proposition and Lawless director John Hillcoat. The film also boasts a stellar cast including Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson. Despite its seemingly impeccable credentials, though, Triple 9 fails to fire.

The problem is that, in nearly every department, this film is too murky. The storyline is confusing, the cinematography is distractingly grainy and the dialogue is at times so muddy it becomes inaudible. If all this murkiness had some thematic justification that would be fine but it just makes the film feel like a stylistic misfire.

Lurking somewhere in the murk is a story about bent Atlanta cops Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Frank (Clifton Collins Jr) along with three criminals Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Russell (Norman Reedus) and Gabe (Aaron Paul) being blackmailed by Russian mob boss Irina (Kate Winslet) into robbing a government building to retrieve vital information about another mob figure. They decide the only way they can pull off a robbery in such a secure facility is to orchestrate a Triple 9 (police code for officer down) which would draw most of Atlanta’s police to another part of the city. To do this they need a sacrificial cop and Marcus’ new partner Chris (Casey Affleck) is the target.

This could have been a thrilling action/ heist movie and a riveting tale of an institution corrupted by greed but it never quite succeeds in either respect. Triple 9 becomes bogged down in exposition and plot tangents and even though Hillcoat peppers the film with enough tense and exciting moments to periodically grab our attention, the film never gathers momentum.

Also, by having such a large collection of characters the film is constantly darting between different scenarios so we have little chance to learn about these characters or develop any sort of emotional connection with them. It would be almost impossible, though, for such a fine cast not to make some sort of impression and Chiwetel Ejiofor in particular brings an impressive intensity to the troubled character of Michael. Woody Harrelson also adds an amusing and unusual flavour to the film as a debauched but dogged cop investigating the gang. Kate Winslet is reasonably convincing as a Russian femme fatale mob boss but she appears so fleetingly she doesn’t have the chance to create an indelible character. Aaron Paul’s dishevelled drug-addicted Gabe is meant to be a sad Dorian Grey like embodiment of the city’s sins and police department’s corruption but (due mostly to the messy script) he just ends looking like a stumbling drunk and never generates the necessary pathos his character required.

To his credit, Hillcoat makes effective use of the Atlanta slum environment creating a menacing battleground between police and (admittedly stereotyped) Mexican American gangsters.

Triple 9 has some impressive moments but these don’t add up to an entirely satisfying film.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Crime/drama

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): John Hillcoat.

Release date: 3rd March 2016.

Running time: 115 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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