By Jack Dignan
An a-list cast in a crime movie that promises to be a more intense version of Heat? Count me in. That sounds like the best thing ever, especially when you look at the cast list and realise this super star cast consists of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson, amongst many, many others. And what’s that? It’s directed by John Hillcoat, the guy who made The Road and Lawless? Yes please. Except….. This film isn't the extraordinary motion picture everyone wanted it to be. In fact, it's really rather average. Why, that is quite unfortunate indeed.
Triple 9 combines together the story of a few different cops and criminals into a film about robbery, family and corrupt cops. Who the main character is is debatable, seeing’s as how it seems to change every twenty minutes or so. There’s Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.), two ex-military members who team up with a cop named Marcus (Anthony Mackie) to perform crimes and robberies for Irina (Kate Winslet), who has assigned them one last job, and the only way to get this job done is to get all the police distracted by the death of a cop, and the cop they’ve chosen to kill is Marcus’ new partner, Chris (Casey Affleck).
Sounds interesting? Maybe that’s because you’ve seen this story in a thousand different films, except this time there isn’t just one story they’ve stolen from. It’s a combination of a variety of other films, or more accurately, every other film. Nothing feels new. Nothing feels original. As I watched this film, I couldn’t help but think “I’ve seen this before,” and this is a feeling that never managed to go away, bumming me out for the entirety of the runtime. My enjoyment towards this movie was pulled down by my constant reminders of how clichéd and unoriginal this film is.
Hillcoat certainly knows how to make a movie, his direction and cinematography here is solid, but what he fails to do is create suspense. The action is handled well and you can feel the grittiness and realism of these locations and these scenarios, but for some reason, the suspense is all gone. It's handled well, but there's never any stakes. He just lets the scenarios play through, hoping we'll be on the edge of our seats, but when there's nothing to lose, I... just... kind of... sat there, waiting for it to be over.
On the bright side, the performances in Triple 9 are exceptionally good, and that's just what you'd want in a film with a cast as good as this one. The characters they're playing are very clichéd, which is normally a bad thing, but in terms of their performances, it gives them a lot to play around with. They're simple characters with simple motives (or at least I think it was simple. The whole good guy-bad guy line got a little blurry), meaning the actors can be more focussed on their performance rather than developing their character, and it works. It's nothing Oscar worthy, but it works.
Within the clichés and the familiarity, there's plenty of moments of entertainment. They're far and in-between, but they're there, waiting patiently for their chance to pounce into the spotlight. There's plenty of twists and turns in the plot that, while predictable, are at least enjoyable to watch unravel, and on top of that, the few robbery sequences that take place are certainly the best parts of the film, especially a getaway on a bridge that was hinted at in some of the trailers.
To sum up, Triple 9 is a crime film that should've been so much more. There's moments of entertainment, but these moments are far and in-between, replaced by a formulaic and clichéd plot that's all over the place and very, very familiar.
2 1/2 Stars