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Triple 9's pulpy potboiler thrills don't quite live up to the ferocious talents of its cast, but the film's efficient, solidly crafted genre fun is often enough to balance its troublesome flaws.
All Critics (170)
| Top Critics (39)
| Fresh (90)
| Rotten (80)
| DVD (2)
There's a blue-chip cast running the gamut from A (Casey Affleck) to W (Kate Winslet) and terrific action sequences in Triple 9 - but in the end, this relentlessly nihilistic crime-caper thriller adds up to less than the sum of its impressive parts.
Hillcoat makes the final product seem almost apocalyptic: a social panorama with a functioning society nowhere in sight.
The movie involves a pair of heists, a prisoner abroad, corrupt cops, mobsters, gangsters, and more, and the parts are considerably better than the messy, unfocused whole. But oh, the parts can be a pleasure.
Hillcoat's approach is to craft a pulse-pounding experience that employs a mixture of conventional footage and hand-held work. There's an immediacy to the most gripping scenes.
The uneven thing [here] is John Hillcoat's direction: a tense, sustained journey through an apartment while lined up behind a bulletproof shield alternating with indulgent zooms and cuts depicting local color.
Hillcoat directs with a sense of immediacy and grimy realism, bringing the audience into the shootouts and bloodshed on the streets. Atlanta becomes another war zone for the men who have seen war, battling an enemy of a different race and culture.
Triple 9 is much more densely populated and eventful, but it winds up not being able to live up to the promise of its rich concept.
Triple 9 does bring a couple of new ideas to the table and, though nothing it does is particularly groundbreaking, it is an entertaining ride whilst it lasts.
It felt very smart... Triple 9 doesn't talk down to you.
A messy and unsophisticated cop drama that quickly stumbles into a spiritless slumber.
At the end of the day, stories need to be about characters, not types. While nothing that ought to inspire a letter writing campaign from the ADL,"Triple 9" fails to make it past shorthand.
Triple 9 is a dark and cynical look at police corruption, filled with unlikable characters, but underneath all of that bleakness is a shotgun blast of gripping authenticity for the gang lifestyle presented
After his relentlessly grim debut The Proposition and it's equally grim follow-up, The Road, director John Hillcoat carved a reputation as a less than cheery filmmaker. However, he was clearly one with an undeniable ability to capture a time and place. His third feature - Lawless - proved again that he had a great eye for detail - even though it was lacking a depth of narrative. With Triple 9, Hillcoat, yet again, showcases his gritty realism but it suffers the same problems in terms of the story.
Plot: Blackmailed by Russian mobsters, a gang of crooked cops, led by Terrell Tompkins (Chiwetel Ejiofor), plan the murder of transfer officer Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) in order to buy themselves time to pull off an audacious heist.
Within moments of Hillcoat's crime yarn taking place there are instant reminders of Michael Mann's Heat and the precision in which its characters carry out their bank heist. It's an explosive and very involving start to the film. Soon after, the opening credits display name after name of quality actors. The ingredients are here and there's no doubt about that from the offset. That said, the critics have not been favourable to Triple 9 which had led to me putting it off for so long. Sometimes when this is the case, though, it can lower your expectations of a film and you can approach it with an open mind. I didn't expect much from this and I'm glad I didn't as it delivered many positives for me. For a start, the acting is, as expected, top drawer; Affleck, Harrelson and Ejiofor deliver solid work and it's good to see TV stars Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus breakthrough even if they're essentially rehashing their roles from Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, respectively. Needless to say, it's a male dominated environment but that doesn't stop Kate Winslet from stealing every scene she appears in as a ballbreaking Russian mob boss.
For the most part, everything comes together wonderfully; Hillcoat's direction is kinetic and his action set-pieces are brilliantly handled with the aid of Dylan Tichenor's skillful editing and Nikolas Karakatsanis' sharp cinematography. The action moments here rival the aforementioned Heat but what's missing is an attention to plot and characterisation: the very thing that Heat set a benchmark with. Triple 9 simply lacks it and that's where I can find agreement with the film's critics. Character development is nonexistent and for a film that's close to 2 hours, it really shouldn't be as aloof as it is. Some plot strands and character interactions don't make sense at all and it can often leave you wondering if some of the film has ended up in the cutting room floor as it wouldn't have been difficult to take a few extra minutes to explain the relationship of the characters in a little more depth.
It's a real shame that it's not quite the sum of its parts as the action is expertly handled and the cast, under Hillcoat's watchful eye, are outstanding. In the end, though, it's Matt Cook's incoherent muddle of a screenplay that lets them down. There's an old saying that too many cooks can spoil a broth but in this case it took only one.
Despite the weak script, though, I still admired plenty about this gritty cops-and-robbers yarn and it certainly isn't the write-off that it's been burdened with. When all is said and done, the poor writing didn't spoil my enjoyment or take too much away from the abundance of quality elsewhere.
Good trailers can do wonders for a film at the box office. When a film has a good trailer and it does not live up to those expectations, or it has mislead you, that is probably more disappointing than a bad film in general. Triple 9's trailer, for me, will go down in history as one of the most misleading of all time. With such an action-packed and brutal trailer, it made it seem like a film that was trying to mirror or borrow aspects from something like The Town, but that is surely not the case. In one of the most boring attempts to create a compelling story, here are my thoughts on why I believe Triple 9 is below average, even without thinking about its terrible marketing.
In the first act, Triple 9 is presented as a film that follows a group of bank robbers. Some being crooked cops and some being criminals, the character dynamic seemed like one that was going to play out very well throughout the duration of this film. Sadly, this film is really about a group of bad men, doing bad things, trying not to get caught, while they go about their lives. While that can be interesting all in itself, the film jumps around far too quickly between characters to really begin to feel anything for them. In a film like this, you need someone to latch onto in order to root for, otherwise it may just put you to sleep. That is exactly the word I would use to describe this film, tiring. Confused with itself, there is absolutely nothing compelling about any of the events in Triple 9.
Beginning as a full-throttle bank robbery from the vault to the streets, the best part of the film is their very first job. To be honest, I was quite impressed by this opening sequence, but it very quickly ends, leaving viewers wanting more. The thing that eventually becomes frustrating is the fact that it never once becomes exciting again. Any moments of excitement that followed, involved gruesome deaths or drawn-out and slowly paced chase scenes. By the end of this film, I had no desire to root for anyone to stay alive. This is a film about terrible people doing terrible things, and nobody really has any moments of redemption. It is actually pretty depressing when looking back on it.
Warning: Spoilers in the next paragraph.
While I didn't find myself particularly caring about any of these characters, I was at least hoping for a turning point, or for at least one character to be redeemed. The third act of this film finds each character picking each other off until there are no bad guys left. So in the end, this film is about a group of bad guys, doing bad things, and then they all die. This felt like a slap in the face to even the most loving fans of this picture. I found myself appalled, thinking that I wasted two hours on a film that I had actually been excited to see. There is really nothing more to call this film, other than disappointing and misleading.
The film already does a bad job in setting up compelling characters, but when almost every side character is deemed useless once the credits role, you almost feel robbed yourself, as an audience member. If that was their intention, job well done, but I have a feeling that it was not. In the end, Triple 9 borrows from many other films in its genre, never expanding, nor making you care. This is a thinly written film, directed sloppily, and jarringly edited from beginning to end. It benefits from a stellar cast, but even with that addition, it can't hold itself up. I was genuinely excited to see this film, because I believed its trailer to be very promising. Triple 9 is one of the worst films of 2016.
A great cast duke it out in this standard issue heist film, the cops against the crooks, the twist being that some of the cops are the crooks. A good time at the movies. Quality product delivered by an all pro staff. And Kate Winslet becomes the actress I most like to be stranded in a blizzard with.
Sometimes the most upsetting movies are the ones that have a glimmer of promise and then never take advantage of that promise, instead falling upon staid genre clichés and predictable plotting that makes you wonder how a good idea was smashed into a boring and formulaic product. Triple 9 falls into this category of film disappointment. It has a great premise: a group of corrupt cops (Chiwetel Ejiofer, Anthony Mackie) are in debt to an Israeli mob matriarch (Kate Winslet) and owe her one last score, and their solution to ensure they can get away with their crime is to arrange for a new cop on the beat (Casey Affleck) to be killed, thus providing a major distraction. The problem here is that none of these characters are at all interesting. They all have conflicts and the movie does a fine job of providing each one with some kind of pressure and general motivation, but outside of the forces against them, you can summarize them in a scant few words apiece (drug addict, war vet, single dad, etc.). The plot events also just seem to coast around until a pile-up of climaxes, all of which lack satisfying closure as the body count mounts. It's hard to care, and the only character that seems worth following is Affleck's newcomer sniffing out the dangers that are closing in on him. Woody Harrelson feels like he's making a special guest appearance from a separate movie from Oren Moverman as a drug-addled and angry detective. Too often the characters feel out of orbit from one another, the storylines rarely coalescing. It feels like everyone was given the same acting note of being dour and harried. Winslet's hammy turn as an Israeli mob boss allows her to reuse her accent from Steve Jobs. Director John Hillcoat (Lawless) provides a certain charge with how he stages the robbery sequences but it's not enough. Triple 9 is a movie that wastes a great cast, a fine premise, and a talented director. It's not terrible by most accounts but it's resoundingly mediocre, and sometimes that can be even worse than bad.
Nate's Grade: C
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