Triple 9

Movie Information

The Story: A gang of corrupt cops and ex-military contractors beholden to a Russian mob boss are tasked with a heist that can only be accomplished by luring a rookie police officer to his death. The Lowdown: A passable potboiler, ultimately full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Score:

Genre: Crime Drama
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins Jr.
Rated: R

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Playing like a neo-noir with A.D.D., John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 is moderately fun, for what it is. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, the film borrows heavily from better films such as Heat and The Departed, but ultimately fails to rise above its cliche-ridden script and express anything meaningful. Still, for fans of somewhat mindless action-spectacles there are certainly worse ways to spend two hours at the movies.

 

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Whereas Heat looked beyond its cops-and-robbers premise to examine the midlife crises of its leads, and The Departed analyzed systemic corruption from a variety of interesting angles, Triple 9 can’t seem to decide what it wants to be about. While a visually interesting and tightly choreographed opening heist-sequence promises a more engaging film, it proves to have been little more than a bait-and-switch distraction once the plot kicks in. To summarize the story that Triple 9 is trying to tell would be a wasted effort, as there is nothing on display here that hasn’t already been explicated more effectively . Every crime movie trope is on display, from crooked cops to golden-hearted safecrackers to villainous mobsters with (shaky) foreign accents, but no new ground is broken with these characters or their respective arcs.

 

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That being said, the cast portraying those characters is about as solid as one could hope for, at least on paper. As our bank-robbing protagonist, Chiwetel Ejiofor does his damnedest to elevate the material he’s been given, but the real thief here is Woody Harrelson, who steals every scene he’s in (and seems to have a great time doing it). Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus make a pretty game attempt at portraying a brotherly bond, but their glaring physical dissimilarities and limited screen time hamper their efforts. Possibly the best performance in the film is delivered in a single scene by Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire’s Omar) as transgender prostitute and informant Sweet Pea. But all these valiant attempts at thespianism aside, the cast also has a couple of notable weak links that compromise its ability to make up for the script’s shortcomings in the story department. Kate Winslet, while almost unrecognizable as a Russian Jewish mafiosa, never quite manages to bring any gravitas or menace to the role, mostly just looking bored with her circumstances. Casey Affleck’s mullet is more believable than his poorly affected Southern drawl. And Atlanta, which I had hoped would have an onscreen presence as compelling as any of the actors, is instead relegated to bland shaky-cam shots of anonymous inner-city war zones, with the exception of a few recognizable landmarks such as Stone Mountain and the Crazy Horse Gentleman’s Club. Even the legendary Clermont Lounge has been disappointingly sanitized almost beyond recognition.

 

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What Triple 9 lacks in plotting and character development, it attempts to remedy with big action set-pieces, and it mostly succeeds. Two deftly directed heist scenes and some nice chase work go a long way toward overshadowing the film’s shortcomings, but ultimately its lack of purpose proves to be its undoing. A second-act scene involving Ejiofor’s son with Winslet’s sister (Gal Gadot) left me wishing the filmmakers had followed the kid instead, as the story of a black Russian Jewish kid with a bank-robbing dad navigating the Fulton County school system sounds vastly more interesting than what’s actually on display in Triple 9. With so many characters and narrative convolutions to juggle, the film fails to coalesce around any central premise or empathetic focal point. But to quote the classic SCTV bit The Film Farm Report, stuff gets “blowed up real good,” and for those going in with realistic expectations in that regard, Triple 9 does not disappoint. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity.

 

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42 thoughts on “Triple 9

  1. Edwin Arnaudin

    Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus make a pretty game attempt at portraying a brotherly bond, but their glaring physical dissimilarities and limited screen time hamper their efforts.

    Paul’s character was adopted.

  2. Scott Douglas

    I must have missed that choice bit of CYA exposition while a dozen or so early-twenty-somethings were noisily filing in midway through the first act. I wonder if the characters were thusly designated in the original script, or if that plot point was amended retroactively in accordance with casting decisions.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      I don’t think it’s in the script – just what I choose to believe.

      • Scott Douglas and Edwin Arnaudin

        Ah. So you’re putting more effort into this story than its writers did. Very kind of you.

        • Scott Douglas

          I have to stop commenting on these reviews after editing Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow. I never remember to log out and log back in as myself.

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          It’s plenty exciting and twisty. I also wasn’t bothered by familial resemblances, accents (which usually do bother me when done poorly) nor the depiction of Atlanta, which I found plenty grimy.

          • Scott Douglas

            Exciting and twisty are all well and good, but I would’ve liked to have seen it make a point of some sort. Again, I thought it was fine for what it was; a little long, but certainly not boring.

            My objections with the accents and setting are entirely subjective, as I have family in Atlanta and have therefore spent enough time there to recognize when its places and people are not being represented accurately.

          • Scott Douglas

            If you think this representation was “plenty grimy,” go spend an evening at the Clermont Lounge and tell me if you see any strippers remotely resembling the ones shown on screen here, which were clearly ringers. The filmmakers didn’t even dip a toe in the deep-end of grime that is the world-famous Clermont.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            It doesn’t bother me that there isn’t a significant point (other than “crime doesn’t pay”). Bleak and serious though it is, the film isn’t self-important like Sicario or Heat, so I think its primary goal is entertainment – at which I think it succeeds.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            go spend an evening at the Clermont Lounge

            No, thank you.

          • Scott Douglas

            You haven’t lived until an overweight 65 year old Little Bo Peep tries to force a lap dance on you.

          • Scott Douglas

            And I agree that the film largely succeeds in its aim as marginally mindless entertainment, I just wish it had been a little more focused. Reminded me of the wave of mediocre mid-90’s neo-noirs that came out in the wake of Pulp Fiction.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            I was mostly glad to see Hillcoat make another good movie after the lousy Lawless.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            He’s especially awkward there, though he followed it up with respectable turns in The Company You Keep , Nymphomaniac…and Shia LaBeouf Live.

          • Scott Douglas

            Yes, but then he slapped a guy in an elevator… For art!

  3. Ken Hanke

    Soon this thread will have more comments than people who went to see the movie.

    • Scott Douglas

      The title might have been a veiled reference to projected opening weekend ticket sales…

      • Ken Hanke

        Well, it’s being cut to three shows a day at The Carolina. Even granting that it’s not exactly aimed at The Carolina’s demographic that’s quick work.

  4. Big Al

    Edwin, you found “Heat” to be self-important? I thought it good enough to deserve some self-gratification.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      I thought it bloated and meandering enough to inspire a nap.

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          I’m pretty much 50/50 with his films. The last three have not been good.

          • Ken Hanke

            I’ve yet to see one I liked. Tolerated is as far as I’ve gone.

          • Me

            Haven’t seen Thief, but I think The Insider is my personal favorite, I’m not a big Mann fan either.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            The Insider is by far my favorite of his.

          • Scott Douglas

            Thief is definitely worth a watch. Although I haven’t seen it in a few years, so I’m not sure what my assessment of it would be these days…

      • Scott Douglas

        Bloated? Come on, it’s not nice to make fun of Val Kilmer’s weight.

          • Scott Douglas

            My apologies are reserved for his tailor and personal trainer.

          • Scott Douglas

            Thusly named because he was ‘twixt a 60″ and 62″ waist at the time

          • Scott Douglas

            And he only signed on because he thought it was about Twix.

      • Ken Hanke

        Yet more people have still looked at Gerard Butler as McSet.

          • Ken Hanke

            Which ones? If you want to get technical, more people have looked at the review for the 42-year-old Phantom of the Paradise than anything this week.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            I meant the respective page clicks for the new films’ reviews.

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