The premise of Triple 9 revolves around a group of ex military/dirty cops who, after pulling an efficient and calculated bank job and are subsequently blackmailed by the Russian Mob to do another job. The group then devise a plan (the triple 9) to distract all the police in the city to perform the second heist and get their pay day.
Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road, Lawless) had a plethora of talent at his disposal for this film that includes; Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Redus, Woody Harrelson and Gal Gadot, and they all brought their ‘A’ game (with the exception of Woody Harrelson who was borderline cartoonish in comparison). Across the board the performances matched the gritty dark back drop of the shadier parts of Atlanta and there was an intensity that added to the dialogue that made what was going on relatively captivating. While Chiwetel Ejiofor easily has the charisma to carry the film it is Anthony Mackie’s corrupt cop that is the most compelling along with having the most satisfying character arc. As the number of high profile actors on show was what it is, it didn’t matter as much that some of the characters were a bit shallow or had to have some sort of development with a conclusion, so long as the characters come across as genuine. A good example of this was Aaron Paul and Kate Winslet. Aaron Paul gives about as realistic a performance as someone could with being an emotional junkie and coming to terms with a death close to him, while Winslet plays a Russian mob boss with a level of groundedness and levity to those around her where it would have been very easy for her over act in this role.
Triple 9 runs in at just under 2 hours and there are pacing problems. When there is action it is hard to look away, the physical nature of the set pieces bring a realistic edge and uses contrasting settings in different ways to vary the action which was quite effective. The problem arises when there is not much action going on it does sometimes lull. For some reason the director decided to shift the focus of the movie to 3 different characters at random points of the film for no good reason. This stopped the plot from flowing and stunted any momentum that was building up towards the finale of the 3rd act. It also led to it being difficult as a viewer to connect with or sympathise with the ‘moral’ character in Casey Affleck. This is not a slight on his performance but you never feel one way or another that if he died that you would really care. While this cast was a blessing in how much talent was on show it also ended up being a curse.
Triple 9 stylistically deserves to have its place along with films like Sicario for its up close and personal nature. Most of the camera work is pretty standard stuff (thanking the lord there’s very limited ‘shaky’ cam) but it’s the dark colour scheme and night time shots is what sets the continuing animosity of our characters against its gritty backdrop. Tonally it is quite vivid and fits in seamlessly with what was going on.
Triple 9 isn’t a classic case of ‘style and no substance’, rather it is ‘style and unfocussed’, stuttering under the weight of its own potential.
Frustratingly Triple 9 had all the ingredients to make this a real top of the line gang land/heist film. Instead what we have is an unbalanced affair where the direction is a bit all over the place. Excellent performances combined with good action make this watchable and the negatives by no means outweigh the positives, but you can’t help but think that a director with a more concise vision of the plot could have raised this film to it’s full potential.