A heist movie has a lot of things going for it. It has an interesting team of experts, a plan so meticulous that it has to be recited out loud more than once so nothing is left to chance, the thrill of the execution, the risk of being caught, and of course the end reward. The reward for the audience is seeing this whole situation played out like a dance and watching our characters maneuver around pitfalls and unexpected setbacks. Of course none of this matters if you don’t have someone on this team to root for.
In Triple 9, directed by John Hillcoat, Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is in deep with the Russian mafia in Atlanta, Georgia. His son’s mom Elena (Gal Gadot) is the sister of Irina (Kate Winslet), the current mafia boss. Michael would love to skip town with his son, but is forced to take on dangerous jobs for Irina. Making matters worse is that his disreputable crew consists of former and current cops. Gabe(Aaron Paul) and Russel (Norman Reedus) are brothers with opposing disciplines, Marcus (Anthony Mackie) is committed to the operation and won’t let anyone get in the way. Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.) is cold and determined without any remorse in his actions. With the clock ticking on a certain piece of evidence in the government’s possession, this crew must figure out the ultimate diversion in order to retrieve it. They also have to contend with Marcus’ new partner Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), who takes his job very seriously and isn’t afraid to take on the local gangs to figure out what this mafia business is all about or who is responsible for the recent heist. Chris also happens to be the nephew of Jeff (Woody Harrelson), the head detective in this precinct. With the clues starting to pile up, it’s only a matter of time before the cops figure out what’s really going on. But will it be too late?
The movie opens very well, with a tense situation and frantic pace, but as we move on from that scene the movie starts to become sluggish and doesn’t really take that time to give us anything of value other than to remind us how despicable our main characters are. There are all the elements of a great heist movie I appreciate, but none of them are used with any finesse or good timing. Michael has several interactions with Irina and those moments are only meant to show us how threatening she can be and what a terrible position Michael’s young son is in. Otherwise those scenes should have been cut down to maybe two. The scenes involving the planning don’t quite hold your attention and you never quite feel the urgency the film is trying to convey until the actual heist is taking place. Also we spend more time with the bad cops than the good ones and you’re never quite sure who you should be giving more attention. Casey Affleck’s character is very entertaining to watch and one of the few compelling performances, but he should have had more screen time.
It actually bothers me that this film has so many great actors, but doesn’t flesh out their characters or allow them to develop within the story. We have this angry crew of criminals trying to finish one last job so they can move on, but it just doesn’t resonate emotionally. You hope that there is an emotional payoff once the story completes, but after almost two hours it just ends, and the quickness of that ending will leave you with an unsatisfying resolution. Several moments are actually very satisfying, but it’s like getting ice cream without being served your steak dinner. You almost don’t care that it’s happening because you just aren’t invested in the outcome. Still the performances are engaging despite the lack of development.
I was excited to see Norman Reedus do something other than Daryl from The Walking Dead, and he wears calm in a dangerous situation like a glove. His interactions were very entertaining and made the start of this movie one of my favorite parts. Clifton Collins Jr. does a terrific job as the cop nobody should trust. Woody Harrelson is channeling perhaps a variation of his True Detective character and makes this movie stronger by his appearance. Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays desperation well and that makes his character’s decisions seem more dangerous. Kate Winslet is practically unrecognizable as the Russian mob boss and comes off very intimidating, but I still feel less appearances would have made her scenes more powerful. Gal Gadot does a serviceable job in the few scenes she has and it relaxes my fears a little of her upcoming portrayal as Wonder Woman in Batman V Superman. The one actor I hoped would carry the film more and throughout is Casey Affleck. His character has the most heart of anyone in the movie and his moments bring so much energy, but that energy feels squandered by a lack of focus in the writing.
Triple 9 is a heist movie, but it tries harder to be other things as well. In the end you find yourself wanting more of one thing or another and getting neither. While I enjoyed the performances and action scenes overall, the story isn’t anywhere near as compelling. I found similarities to The Departed and Training Day, but it’s not fair to make a full comparison since those films probably had better screenwriters. It’s not a terrible movie, but it would most likely be better to enjoy this one at home.
TRIPLE 9:[usr 2.5]
About Triple 9
Synopsis: A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Matt Cook
Stars: Norman Reedus, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Teresa Palmer, Gal Gadot, Casey Affleck, Clifton Collins Jr, Michael Kenneth Williams
Runtime: 1 Hour, 55 Minutes