Triple 9 – Film Review by David Turpin
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet
After stumbling with 2012’s misjudged bootlegging chronicle, Lawless, Australian director John Hillcoat delivers another starry, but curiously inert, crime saga in Triple 9. The setting this time is contemporary Atlanta, and the characters are a motley assortment of criminals and corrupt policemen, embroiled in – but of course – a career-capping heist gone wrong.
The title of the film refers to the police code for the murder of an officer, an event that our anti-heroes – led by an oddly stiff Chiwetel Ejiofor – plan to engineer as a cover for their theft of a spurious-sounding McGuffin at the behest of snarling Russian Mafia kingpin Kate Winslet. The unlucky officer in question is played by Casey Affleck, and his survival depends upon the shifting allegiances of a rogue’s gallery that also includes Woody Harrelson as a hard-drinking detective, and Aaron Paul as a wiry dope-fiend whose sense of moral rectitude ebbs and flows at the convenience of the script.
If all this sound complicated, it is – and yet Triple 9 somehow manages to feel empty and overstuffed at the same time. Hillcoat gets off to a furious start with an extended masked raid sequence, but once the masks come off his characters are scarcely less anonymous. This being an ‘honour-among-thieves’ affair, it surely wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect some degree of distinction between said thieves to bring the needed suspense to their double- and triple-crosses. Instead, Hillcoat’s coterie of posturing alpha males – also including Norman Reedus, Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins, Jr. – come off like automatic-weapon-toting Top Trumps.
Winslet, on the other hand, is certainly a singular presence. In recent roles, the actress has dedicated herself to out-hamming her old Miramax stablemate, Cate Blanchett, and her turn here comes tantalisingly close to giving Triple 9 a twist of campy lunacy to set it apart in a crowded field. Unfortunately, her back-coming and Bond-villain posturing is put to little use, as Hillcoat seems unsure how to deploy her character beyond scenes of her snarling into her telephone in various locations. To make matters worse, he also lumbers her with a shamefully desultory exit. Elsewhere, Gal Gadot – whose recent casting as Wonder Woman has seen her presence here played up for marketing purposes – delivers two or three lines of stiff exposition in a short skirt.
The saving grace of Triple 9 is Hillcoat’s virtuosity with violent action. While the opening sequence is the standout, the inconsequential drama is occasionally muscled aside for other immersive set-pieces. Interestingly, Hillcoat brings brief flashes of visual exoticism to these scenes with the use of coloured smoke-bombs, exploding dye-packs and falling cans of paint – finding moments of surreal fluorescence that rupture the clammy greys of his milieu. Triple 9 could have used a lot more touches like this. For the most part, its hard to peg this programmer as the work of the same director whose Ghosts of the Civil Dead rattled Australian cinema so vigorously almost three decades ago.