No Clean Getaways in John Hillcoat Film “Triple 9”

Photo Courtesy of Georges Biard, Wikipedia 

John Hillcoat’s “Triple 9” is a pulpy, ultra-violent thriller of cops and robbers that’s reminiscent of films like “Heat” and “The Departed.” While “Triple 9” doesn’t achieve the standard of greatness that it sets out to meet, it’s still a fun and riveting piece of fiction thanks to a top-notch cast and some intense set pieces.

Set in the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, “Triple 9” is the tale of a group of bank robbers, two of whom are police officers, tied to Russian-Jewish mob boss Irina (Kate Winslet), who tasks the crew with a seemingly impossible heist. The crew’s plan: kill a police officer, a “999” in police-scanner terminology, to draw all of the attention to that incident and execute a relatively easy heist on the other side of town. But like all too-good-to-be-true ideas, emotions, betrayal, complications and bad luck get thrown in the mix, making the situation that much more tense and unpredictable.

Working from a screenplay by Matt Cook, “Triple 9” is riddled with clichés that you’ve seen in plenty of movies about crooked cops and bank heists. Marcus (Anthony Mackie), one of the thieves who works for the force, develops a relationship with Chris (Casey Affleck), the officer that Marcus is supposed to kill to trigger the 999. Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), another one of bank robbers, has a son with Irina’s sister, Elena (Gal Gadot), and is unable to see his son until the heist is completed. These and a few other plot contrivances can feel predictable and manufactured for the sake of suspense, but it doesn’t derail the overall product.

And talk about a stacked cast. The standouts include Mackie, Winslet and Ejiofor, all of whom deliver believable, gut-churning performances, particularly Winslet’s maniacally evil mob boss. Affleck, Clifton Collins Jr. and Woody Harrelson turn in solid performances as well. Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul aren’t given much screen time, or good material, as the other two heist members, and Gadot is playing nothing more than eye candy. So it’s an uneven but, for the most part, tremendous cast that will keep eyes glued to the screen.

Hillcoat stages a number of heists and shootouts that make for some genuinely intense thrills, the first and final heist being the showstoppers. Smaller, more intimate scenes set in dimly lit rooms, whether they’re in a strip club or bar, with cigarette smoke cascading over the scene, are stylish if not a little overdone.

The direction, in tandem with the screenplay, give the film an authentic feel that captures the everyday grind of being a police officer in a dangerous neighborhood; the cluttered offices, the gun-on-lap driving, the crime scenes disrupted by bystanders, and, of course, drug raids.

“Triple 9” succeeds at enthralling and shocking with scenes of grotesque violence and character drama.