Release: 27th June 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
When a crew of dirty cops is blackmailed by the Russian mob to execute a virtually impossible heist, they realize the only way to pull it off is to manufacture a 999, police code for “officer down”. The chaos that ensues when a police officer is shot in the line of duty is just the diversion they’ll need to do the job, but whether they have the will to kill one of their own is an entirely different matter.
To say that Triple 9 is John Hillcoat’s cheeriest film to date isn’t saying much. It opens on a bank robbery that results with innocent pedestrians being gunned-down on a bridge, then moves on to torture, asphyxiation, kidnap and a plot to commit murder. A barrel of laughs, this is not. What it is, however, is a tense and slightly by-the-numbers crime thriller that has more in common with contemporary TV than film.
Hillcoat has gained something of a reputation for making inescapably harsh genre movies, which drag audiences into a mire of hapless protagonists who find themselves morally adrift and backed into very tight corners. There is often an oppressive weight to his movies that can result in shortness of breath and a continual sense of impending doom. Where previous efforts such as The Proposition, The Road, Lawless and even Hillcoat’s debut Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead, wore their grimness like a black shroud, Triple 9 plays out under the guise of a slick thriller. And where the aforementioned films panted and heaved in a dark heap, terrifying us from a distance, Triple 9 has a definite sexiness to it. The world of Triple 9 is neither a barren desert nor scarred wasteland of tomorrow. It may have its eye firmly in the gutter, but Triple 9 finds its darkness in character motivation rather than surroundings. It is the reverse Dorian Grey of Hillcoat’s universe, a place where the ugliness is hidden beneath sideways glances and shallow smiles, rather than being a dirty great eye sore on the wall; a warning to all that something wicked this way comes.
The offset of this preoccupation with building tension is that some characters are left to wilt away when they are not necessary to the plot. This is by far the biggest ensemble Hillcoat has managed in his mainstream career, and it shows that he is not always able to keep plates spinning. Aaron Paul is demoted to Jeese Pinkman duties so that Chiwetel Ejiofor can offer Kate Winslet screen time. Anthony Mackie potters around Ben Affleck so that we can spend time with Woody Harrelson. And Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer and Norman Reedus are all but set decoration. Then the music stops, chairs are moved and we carry on in a different combination. There is great frustration in this, because when lesser characters are given a bit of limelight, Triple 9 flourishes. One of the film’s most memorable and sphincter damaging scenes is a foot chase / gun fight involving Affleck and Mackie, which lasts way longer than you’d hope but just long enough to induce a mild stroke. If you thought season 2 of True Detective had taken the silver medal for on-screen shoot out (aint no one besting Heat), then think again.
With a rather unsatisfactory finale, Triple 9 limps a little across the finish line but still to great applause. Kate Winslet revels in redefining an already illustrious career, by playing a character who literally and figuratively owns the entire movie. Between the set pieces, eye watering violence and Winslet’s panther-like presence, Triple 9 proves itself as high-end entertainment, and one of those rare instances where audiences might applaud a long-form TV remake. Although if that does happen it may have to come with a prescription for anxiety medication.
Film Grade: B
A couple of EPKs (Electronic Press Kit) dress themselves up as blink and you’ll miss them documentaries. The Deleted Scenes are a mixed bag of “meh”, and “oh!”. The most notable of which is an alternate death scene for a certain someone.
The Cast Interviews are pretty good, and offer extended glances into the filmmaking process. However, Hillcoat is noticeably absent.
Special Features Grade: D+
Some will love it, others will dismiss it. But Triple 9 is easily one of the more engaging crime thriller to hit our screens in a long time.