Given that I was one of the few people who wasn’t overly fussed for the release of ‘Deadpool’ (my ignorance was duly rectified), I had my sights firmly set on ‘Triple 9’ as the film to tide me over before the release of ‘Batman v Superman’. The trailer immediately caught my attention last year, and my interest further spiked when I realised what an unbelievable cast John Hillcoat had managed to get on board for his crime/cop thriller. It’s fair to say that the film had instilled a fair amount of excitement in the film community ahead of its release; so much so that I just had to go to the cinema on opening day to see if the film could live up to my expectations.
Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) is the head of a Russian crime syndicate operating in Atlanta, Georgia alongside her sister Elena (Gal Gadot). Instead of getting her hands dirty herself, she has a group of men under her thumb that do her work for her. After the successful robbery of a bank, the group of five men; Gabe and Russel Welch (Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus), Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jnr) and Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), under the leadership of Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejoifor), are reluctantly forced into one final job for their Russian matriarch. In order to pull off this final job, they need the ultimate distraction and they decide that the murder of “new cop on the block” Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) would be perfect. As their plan begins to unravel under the investigation of Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), we bare witness to the brutality that desperate men will resort to when their lives are at stake.
I’ll start by addressing the cast, seeing as though that was the main attraction for most. The acting talent on display here meant that the performance levels were good from all of those involved. It would take too long to go through all of them, but Anthony Mackie, Chitwetel Ejiofor and Clifton Collins Jnr (the latter being the best of the bunch) should take a lot of credit here for their respective performances. I was excited to see Kate Winslet in a slightly different role than I am used to, and whilst she performed her role well, I can’t shake the feeling that her character was slightly under-explored; she could have been the star of ‘Triple 9’ but I felt a bit shortchanged by the characterisation. If I were to state any negatives about any of the performances, Aaron Paul’s performance and/or character annoyed me slightly, and as I was watching I began to think, rather controversially, whether ‘Breaking Bad’ had actually done him a disservice. His character finds himself in similar circumstances to that of Jesse Pinkman (yeah, bitch!) and I couldn’t help but feel that Paul had been typecast once again, as he struggles to make the transition from TV to the silver screen and shake that “unstable, drug addict” tag that made him a household name. Characterisation has been a problem for many critics that I’ve read, but for me (with the exception of Winslet and Paul) the characters were absolutely perfect. People have been saying that all of the main cast are so detestable that it’s hard to want them to succeed, but for me, surely that’s good characterisation if you don’t like anyone amongst a gang of violent criminals and crime lords? Even then, I still found myself rooting for Ejiofor’s character, so contrary to popular opinion, I think the characters were one of the most intriguing parts of the film as we got a really intense, cross-examination of those involved.
An issue I do concur with the masses on, however, is pacing. The opening scene was fantastic in terms of aesthetics (with the red flare smoke a particular highlight) and it was a superbly tense and adrenaline-pumping opening. After that, the forward momentum was lost somewhat, and whilst it was impossible for the film to keep up that level of intensity throughout, there were times when the narrative felt a little messy. For an action-thriller film, action sequences are actually few and far between, but I think that issue is counter-balanced by the length and intensity of the action sequences we do get, with my personal favourite being an intense ten minute sequence where a group of police officers efficiently storm the house of a criminal. All of the action sequences are intense and violent, so for me, there was more than enough combat to meet my expectations. It was instead the bits in between that needed that little bit extra to maintain some forward momentum.
All in all, I think “Triple 9’ more or less delivered exactly what I expected, and despite the reservations I’ve voiced, it’s still a hugely enjoyable film to watch and I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of crime/police films like ‘The Town’. But this recommendation comes with a warning; it’s clearly not in the same league as the best the genre has to offer. Given the quality of the acting talent available to Hillcoat, it’s impossible to ignore the idea that this is a film that does miss the mark somewhat, as it could have been truly special. Instead, ‘Triple 9’ will probably find itself destined to be remembered as one of Hollywood’s many “what could have been” movies.
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Gal Gadot, Norman Reedus