Starring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, Clifton Collins Jr., Woody Harrelson
2 STARS (out of 5)
The key to a good thriller is keeping a fine balance between pacing, exposition, character development and plot twists. Having recently reviewed The Finest Hours, I was excited to watch Triple 9 as it seemed to promise what the former didn’t – fast-paced, intense action with enough dirty dealings and dodgy characters to satisfy anyone looking for the year’s first grimy shoot-out, full of crooked cops and shocking moral event horizons. Thankfully, the movie fires on most of these cylinders - but there are a number of crucial components missing that allow Affleck’s second big release of the year (the first being the aforementioned Hours) to slip into mediocre territory.
Triple 9 centers around the aftermath of a bank robbery that has been carried out by a foursome of rogue cops and military wildcards, who are supplying an impressively domineering and Russian-accented Kate Winslet. Winslet is acting on behalf of an incarcerated husband, a Jewish gangster holed up in a Russian jail and who is said to be a threat to national security. She demands that the crew deliver a further job for her before they are paid for their first – to secure a number of sensitive security codes - which the four (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul and Clifton Collins Jr.) eventually agree to take on. After mulling over the best way to tackle the tricky heist, the crew decide that the only way they will be able to get the lucrative loot is to distract their fellow police officers with a Triple 9 – the code used for ‘officer down’ – and they aim to use good guy cop Casey Affleck as the pawn sacrifice. What follows is a series of underhand plots, fatal misunderstandings, street shootings and a skittish Woody Harrelson attempting to understand and investigate the initial robbery at the start of the movie.
The cast is astounding on paper – Ejiofor is on mark throughout and there are familiar faces to many in Reedus (The Walking Dead), Mackie (The Avengers universe) and Paul (Breaking Bad), offering a great selection of contemporary acting talent that should, in all fairness, provide a highly entertaining movie. Harrelson shines as an affected detective and the aforementioned Winslet steals every scene she stride into. Certainly, in a movie that is male-dominated, it’s a great twist to see one of Hollywood’s most celebrated female actors get a chance to lord it over everyone in her position as the biggest of the bad guys.
Triple 9 is relentless. If you like your movies fast-paced, with absolutely no reliance upon exposition, you’ll find the film an absolute blast – that is, until it runs out of momentum altogether. While I had seen The Finest Hours earlier in the week, which suffered from too much in the way of stable direction and not enough ‘tell, don’t show’ moments, Triple 9 has it completely in reverse. If you so much as blink or let your mind wander for a moment, you will have been left behind in the tide. Sadly, while you may assume this allows for a huge potential to see character development flying off the chain, we are left with lots of things happening very quickly and very intensely, leaving very little in the way of breathing space nor time for our characters to grow into three-dimensional beings.
Beyond their roles in the big heist, and despite an incredible cast, none of the movie’s characters achieve this status, instead serving the purpose of pawns in a very hurried game of scriptwriting chess. In terms of direction, plot twist and sheer intensity, Triple 9 certainly delivers on a number of occasions – but by the time the movie reaches its final throes, it flounders around as if frantic to end, somewhere, satisfactorily. Without spoiling the final twist, it doesn’t end brilliantly, leaving audiences to wonder just what could have been monopolized upon had the characters and the situation been given a moment or two to breathe.
Triple 9 - Official Trailer (Open Road Films)
Triple 9 lacks the subtlety and build-up of great thrillers, instead opting to throw scenes involving corrupt cops and street thugs that we’ve seen a million times before. While the movie has a clear narrative and is incredibly intense – thanks in part to a fantastic score from Atticus Ross – it doesn’t do anything particularly new. None of the characters are particularly memorable, and neither are the things they do. People get shot – a lot – and threats are made – a lot. If fast-paced spills and thrills without brains nor heart are your cup of tea, you may even find that this movie fails to deliver on a number of levels you are used to seeing elsewhere.
While Triple 9 is technically proficient and features a talented and recognizable cast, this sadly does little to bend a mediocre script to more than an underwhelming bullet shower that is both far too long, and, ultimately, is far too flimsy to stretch to a two-hour run-time. For intense action and fast-paced thrills, it ticks a few boxes – but lacks enough meat to create a consistent and coherent tale. Sometimes, exposition is good – and sometimes, pace can be pushed too far.