Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie
A gang of five robbers (Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus) that consist of two dirty cops (Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr.) are given one final job by the Russian gangster (Kate Winslet) that they are forced to take orders from. However in order to pull of this seemingly impossible heist they decide to manufacture a Triple 9, in which an officer is down and all available cops will be called to the scene, hence buying them time with their heist. With one of the bent cop’s new partner (Affleck) seeming to be the perfect pawn, their plan is put in motion with unexpected complications.
I must confess that I cannot help but enter any film about criminals that has a huge cast list which is emphasised in the film’s marketing with degree of scepticism as it often can be an indication of the filmmakers not only of course trying to get bums on seats by throwing s many big names as possible to tempt us, but also severe laziness. Black Mass was a recent example of this where a film gives us predominantly unlikeable characters it is impossible to relate to, but instead of focussing on making an actual effort with the script to solve this issue they decided to just have every character played by a famous face thinking this would make up for it. Though it does of course make any film more watchable, it still leaves it hollow and forgettable.
Without giving too much away, the trailer for Triple 9 is a little misleading as there are characters on both sides of the law and not just criminals with unlikable characteristics. Triple 9 is certainly a highly competent thriller that is extremely watchable and entertaining, but it does indeed have a big (and perhaps cynical) cast list and is ultimately a hollow and forgettable film.
In terms of the subject of characterisation; there is hardly any backstory or character development as Matt Cook’s script is purely focussed on plot, making its characters highly disposable and ultimately quite forgettable. As there are a lot of characters, subplots and double crossings it is just as well as there is always plenty going on to make sure that we are never bored, or indeed ask too many questions.
Indeed it is best that there is plenty going on as the multiple plot strands and criss-crossing of characters often relies on coincidence a little too much or just not even attempting to give an explanation and we are expected to just go with it. For a crime thriller that takes itself very seriously the whole overall plot and many of its developments are just too predictable and feel like they are just going through the motions to ever have the audience on the edge of their seat. In terms of entertainment, Triple 9 is definitely a film that gets better and more interesting as it goes along as the all the plot lines start to come together, but at every step it never really pulls any true surprises.
This is a real shame as Triple 9 is very well made; John Hillcoat has a decent CV and once again puts together some very well staged set pieces. Hillcoat’s visuals, Nikolas Karakatsanis’ cinematography, the excellent sound design and the musical score capture a distinctive mood and tone very effectively, even if it often does not make Atlanta look like the most pleasant of places. There is no denying that the impressive visuals do at times carry the unremarkable script.
Likewise the performances also elevate the lacklustre material that is at the actor’s disposal. Every character does play an important part in the plot, but with a script that ultimately gives the attitude that everyone of its characters are very much expendable it is a liberty to then expect the audience to care about them. However Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr. and Aaron Paul are all excellent in their roles and do help to make the film that bit more engaging. Meanwhile Kate Winslet and Woody Harrelson are on total autopilot and just pout and chew scenery respectively, but no one chews scenery better than Woody Harrelson and his character has the nearest thing to a character arc, but only just. His character (and sort of character arc) does play a pivotal role in the film’s conclusion which does make it that little bit more satisfying, albeit even more neat, tidy and predictable
Thrillers can either be solely all about the plot with the very little focus on its characters own stories (a recent excellent example of this would be Spotlight) or have minimal actual overall plot but be about its characters (a recent excellent example of this would be Sicario), but Triple 9 is stuck in the mediocre middle.
Very well made and very well acted by its big name cast, but Triple 9 is ultimately let down by a script that never wants to take any risks and so produces a thriller that is very watchable and entertaining from start to finish, but doesn’t do what by definition a film of this genre should do; it never actually thrills.