Now playing at a multiplex near you:
TRIPLE 9 (Dir. John Hillcoat, 2016)
A “triple 9” is slang for the police code 999, which means “officer down.” In this heavy on the grit heist thriller, it’s what a group of corrupt cops and a few criminal partners are counting on in order to pull off a dangerous job involving breaking into a heavily guarded government facility.
Sure, it sounds like a pretty standard issue premise for the February dumping ground (especially to be released on Oscar weekend), but hear me out as I had a bit of fun with it.
We are introduced to the crime busting/crime creating crew, made up of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins, Jr., Aaron Paul, and Norman Reedus, in an opening sequence bank heist in downtown Atlanta. You know the drill - menacing thugs in black masks shouting at tellers, and customers to get on the ground, a look-out in a white van outside monitoring police scanners, frazzled bank manager being forced to open the vault, etc.
Yet all these routine elements are efficiently handled and there are some genuine thrills along the way as the gang’s getaway hits a snag in the form of a red smoke bomb that goes off in one of the cash bags, which leads to a freeway bridge shoot-out (you know, sort of like in DEADPOOL!).
After the smoke clears and our gang escapes scot free, they are refused payment for the bank job by the Russian mob headed by an initially unrecognizable Kate Winslet (it’s the big, brassy blonde hair that threw me off). Winslet’s Irina Vlaslov (great name) demands that the crew do the aforementioned break-in so that they can steal computer files that will get her husband released from a Russian prison.
Their plan to manufacture a 999 has a mark in good cop Casey Affleck as Mackie’s new partner. Affleck, whose presence here recalls his roles in the OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies, and TOWER HEIST, and also brings to mind his brother’s THE TOWN, is the nephew of the detective (Woody Harrelson) investigating the first robbery, so he may be able to figure out who the bad apples on the force are before he’s targeted.
There’s not a lot to Affleck’s character, but the sweaty, boozing Harrelson, in a part that’s shaky, where his True Detective persona was smooth, may be the film’s saving grace. He certainly steals the movie with lines like “be careful what you insta-face-tweet,” and (to Affleck) “your job is to out-monster the monster and make it home at the end of the night.”
Winslet, who’s up for an Oscar on Sunday night for STEVE JOBS, also stands out with her not bad Russian accent, garish outfits, and big hair. It’s way against type but she successfully disappears into the evil Irina. It would be fascinating to see what Cate Blanchett, who was originally cast in the part, would do with it, but I’m glad Winslet got this chance to show us yet another layer.
Despite their underwritten roles, Mackie deftly proves he can be a dark dude when not dolled up in a Marvel suit, Ejiofor gets some steely stoical moments in, and Paul, of course echoing Breaking Bad’s Jesse, basically just goes through the movie as if he’s on a really bad trip.
TRIPLE 9 is a serviceable off season thriller. Its workmanlike screenplay by first-timer Matt Cook holds it back somewhat, but its committed cast, and its flashes of craft by director Hillcoat ensure that it’s at least a notch above the generic genre exercise that most critics will accuse it of being.