Triple 9 March 8, 2017
John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 is so hypnotized by its own muchness that it forgets that platefuls of visual razzle dazzle and the extravagances of an expensive cast aren’t enough to make up for a storyline drowned in subplots and shaky character motivation. Essentially this is a movie about bad people that never finds that said badness compelling – Hillcoat decides early on that our job is to attempt to bask in the glory of tricky schemes and incendiary action sequences, not try to immerse ourselves in the psyches of good people turned villainous.
Which is a misguided decision, considering the film obviously was made with the intention of following the suit of the character-driven Walter Hill-directed thrillers of the 1970s. What we’re given, as a result of Hillcoat being undeniably proficient behind the camera and the all-star cast being so superlatively talented, is a heist masterpiece that never was, an old-fashioned tour-de-force that turned out to be dreck.
Too many characters and a lack of schematic clarity make it impossible to care about the fates of anyone involved. Triple 9 concerns itself with a congregation of corrupt cops (led by Anthony Mackie) indebted to Russian mobster Irina (a scene-stealing Kate Winslet) thanks to her sister’s (Gal Gadot) romantic involvement with one of the men. As the film opens, the dirty-faced crew are in the midst of what they believe to be their last mission for the criminal conglomerate, which is the stealing of the safety deposit box of a major bank.
But, alas, trusting the mafia is never a sure-fire thing, and to the horror of the cops and robbers doing her bidding, Irina refuses to pay until they pull off yet another nearly impossible assignment. That assignment being the audacious breaking into of a governmental office and wiping incriminating data about Irina’s much more powerful husband from its servers.
The only way to have that scenario pull through, though, is the executing of a 999 scenario, which entails an officer down situation that calls for an entire police department to travel to the location of the incident. Fortunately for the team, a rookie’s (Casey Affleck) employed at just at the right time, and it’s up them to earn his trust before offing him for their own gain.
And yet for all its pulp potential is Triple 9 an unfocused jumble more attitude than reactionary punchiness. Not a single one of these characters is multifaceted enough to be represented as a barely sketched out cutout. Whether that position’s an effect of almost every one of the pivotal characters being played by a Hollywood hotshot is certainly reasonable: because we see a headliner peeking from every corner of the film’s 115 minutes, we endlessly wait for some sort of revelation to explain why a minor character must be played by a talent shrouded in critical and commercial notoriety. When those revelations never come, Triple 9 digs itself deeper into its own grave of ineptitude and dependence on vapid flash. Clear is that the casting is simply a matter of Hillcoat stroking his ego.
If Triple 9 traded a few of its stars for no-names and deleted a couple subplots from its repertoire, we’d have something of a modern day The French Connection (1971). But only moments creeping in and out here and there highlight the movie it could have been, from the death-defying opening sequence to the pitch-perfect, nihilistic finale. Hillcoat’s undermining of the film’s potential is a shame – with all this starriness and grit galore, we should have had something better than Black Mass (2015). C-