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.
My Take – Films based on cop being dirty or not playing by the rules are more of a been there done that kind of rehashed route now. While some are good, most of them turn out to be bad. Luckily for us this film directed by John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless) ends up in the good category. I was surprised at the lack of push this movie got. This is quite the ensemble of Academy Award nominees (Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson and Chiwetel Ejiofor), current and future blockbuster stars (Anthony Mackie and Gal Gadot), an actor known to be picky about his projects (Casey Affleck) and prominent T.V. actors (Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul). You would think that alone would help it secure more attention when it was released. I’m still glad I saw it but anyone expecting an End of Watch, The Town or Training Day caliber movie (which are the first three movies that come to mind in comparison to this one) will be disappointed but rest assured it manages to stand on its own. The titular term is a police code meaning an officer is down & urgent help needed. The story follows Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a former military special operator & now the leader of a gang consisting of Russell Welch (Norman Reedus), Russell’s little brother Gabe (Aaron Paul) & two corrupt cops Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.). What had just started of means to fulfill their pure greed for money has now extended into an entangled tie up with Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), the wife of an imprisoned Jewish mob boss who threatens the lives of the families of the members of Michael’s gang in order to get what she wants. Michael is especially in a bad position as Irina is also also the sister of his ex partner Elena (Gal Gadot) & has to continue the dirty jobs for the good of their son.
Irina refuses to pay Michael and company until they pull one more heist for her, a demand that she backs up with threats and violence. The second job involves the gang breaking into a facility run by the Department of Homeland Security. They agree that they’ll never be able to get in and out before Atlanta’s finest arrived on the scene unless the police response could be somehow delayed. Marcus suggests killing a cop to create the necessary diversion. Marcus suggests his new straight-arrow partner, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), as the sacrificial lamb and uses the investigation of a gang killing to talk to a gang lieutenant like Luis Pinto (Luis Da Silva) who might help out with his plan. Hovering over this scenario is Chris’ uncle, Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) who himself has gotten pretty jaded over the years, but is determined to protect his young nephew. Let’s just say that the goals and desires of all these characters become challenging. The film is original and entertaining, but very dark. Its gritty reality reminds me of 2006’s “Miami Vice” film and the impressive heists reminded me of a hardened version of the “Oceans” films. Putting corrupt cops together with former military in a single gang is interesting, and almost as unusual as seeing orthodox Jews as Irina’s henchmen. The ensemble cast is great (and, according to director John Hillcoat, pretty tough to get together considering how in demand they all are). Watching them is especially entertaining when you realize that this is the first time that you’ve seen some of them playing such nasty characters. Come to think of it, these characters may just be a bit too nasty. It’s a little hard to believe that a gang of people with such a low average morality quotient would include police officers and former military members – and the number of unanswered questions in the story makes it even harder to believe (or completely understand) what we’re seeing. If you know anything about the film beforehand, you’ll notice that my early plot description doesn’t include Casey Affleck or Woody Harrelson. The reason for that is that you don’t get introduced to their characters till around 15-20 minutes in. One of the problems that I had with the film is that the flow of the plot is very unusual. It’s always progressing and it’s never boring but it doesn’t really feel like there’s any movement, especially in the middle of the movie. We find out that there’s going to be another heist and the plan is formed but then nothing happens in regards to it for a solid third of the feature. I don’t want to give anything away but the plan for the ending doesn’t even come into play until there’s about a half hour left in the run time. It isn’t that there isn’t anything going on but it was confusing to me and I wanted them to get back into it instead of another scene of the criminals mulling over whether they should do it or not. The other problem was that there wasn’t much character development with any of the characters. To be fair, there’s a lot of big actors and they all deserve screen time but you can’t root for them because you know so little about them.
Chris Allen is more or less our protagonist but other than that he has a family and transferred from another part of town, why should we like him? I guess it comes down to the fact he’s the only non-corrupt character. The movie also wants to get behind Michael but other than the fact that the Jewish Mob is holding his son hostage, we don’t really know that much about him. His relationship with his Elena is also pretty cold, why does he care so much about her when all he does is cuss at her when they’re around each other? Nobody gets to really dive in to their character because it’s just not written there or there was a heavy editing job and all that stuff was on the cutting room floor. Story wise, holes aside, there’s quite a lot going on and quite a lot to keep track of. Everyone seems to be interrelated somehow, and it can take a bit of work on the audience’s part to connect all the dots together. Most of the plot is focused around the characters themselves, as I’ve mentioned, but it cleverly uses this to guide the outcome of the movie. It feels like the writer came up with the idea, came up with the characters, and then threw them together and followed them individually along the timeline to figure out how they’d end up at the end, and what their role would be. This results in some fairly unpredictable twists and turns that make complete sense from the perspective of the characters. I have to say that I’m incredibly impressed they were able to get this kind of cast together for this film. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, and Clifton Collins Jr. comprise of this gang of very different personalities with the bulk of them being varying degrees of volatile. These are some truly wretched human beings and the bulk of the movie revolves around their little group. The group especially Ejiofor puts in a solid performance. We also get solid performances by Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson and I have to say that I pretty much love everything Harrelson does. Affleck gives us a much more subtle performance but Harrelson just steals every scene he’s in with his over the top attitude. Finally, I need to give it up to Kate Winslet as Irina. I didn’t even recognize Winslet when I first saw the movie especially with the accent but it’s definitely her. She’s easily one of the most terrifying people in this film and that’s saying a lot considering the lengths some of these people will go to get what they want. Gal Gadot & Teresa Palmer are wasted in small roles. On the whole, ‘Triple 9’ is a solidly enjoyable movie. It’s not the masterpiece I’d hoped for, but if you’re looking for a good corrupt cop or a heist movie filled with all kinds of deranged stuff going on then look no further. This film will definitely help to scratch that itch. I recommend this if you’re in the mood for a good dose of suspense.
Director – John Hillcoat
Rated – R
Run Time – 115 minutes