By Jack Spillane
Director John Hillcoat has managed to assemble one hell of an impressive cast for his upcoming cops and robbers thriller Triple 9. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet and Anthony Mackie are just some of the big names in an enticing all-star cast. However, what initially seems like a huge draw ultimately becomes this film’s biggest weakness.
Starring Affleck as an idealistic rookie, Mackie as a cop turned criminal, Winslet as the head of a Russian mob and Woody Harrelson as seasoned investigator, this film has a lot going on. Too much in fact. The setting up of all the characters and basic premise of the plot takes a while to get going because of the sheer amount of people, back stories and motivations that have to be made clear to the audience. This is without even mentioning Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead’s Daryl), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Clifton Collins Jnr as the other members of a heist crew. Then throw in Gal Gadot as Winslet’s sister and mother of Ejiofor’s child and you get a packed plot.
There is not enough time in a two hour film to get invested in any of these characters, no matter the calibre of actor. Ejiofor and Affleck are given the most weight, but there is little to grab onto with what are mostly generic archetypal characters. Triple 9 is set up for you to be torn in who to route for, but this isn’t Michael Mann’s Heat. The film is too busy to motivate you into wanting anyone but the obvious good guy, Casey Affleck, to win yet so much time is dedicated to the criminals without accomplishing much.
As the runtime progresses, the cast naturally becomes more streamlined as the film hurtles towards having a similar ending to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The fewer people there are to focus on, the more enjoyable Triple 9 is. Affleck and Mackie have some great scenes together and less focus on Ejiofor, his crew and Winslet (sporting an awful Russian accent) would have helped create a more effective drama. As it is, Hillcoat takes far too much on having all these characters intertwined.
The set pieces is where Triple 9 really excels. The opening bank heist is fantastic and a police raid on a suspect in one of Affleck’s cases is carried out as expertly as it is filmed. These sequences are the biggest highlight where the flimsy attempts at character-work doesn’t muddy the action. The camera follows a raid team as they crash through a housing project in hot pursuit of a tattooed, gun-toting criminal which is one of the films few moments of high tension.
One thing the film does have going for it, however, is that it is hard to tell where it is going to go next. Since there are so many characters, there are many potential avenues for twists and deaths. Although you may not care too much for a character, there are some surprising turns that ramp up to an unexpected finale. However, it never rises above being anything more than superficial and you watch as people kill and double cross each other as though you’re watching someone read the phonebook. In short, Triple 9 never does enough to creep into your emotions.
Hillcoat so clearly wants these characters to hit home harder than they do. The talent is on screen; there just isn’t enough weight behind them to make this cops and robbers thriller all that thrilling. Some decent action sequences and generally good performances (Winslet looks the part, but is the one misstep in the casting) are not enough to recommend Triple 9. Attempting to be an interesting mix of Heat and The Departed, it takes themes from far better films and dilutes them to the point of averageness. It’s a shame because Hillcoat showed with The Road that he is a talented director when working with a small cast, but this ensemble crime does not hit the mark.
Triple 9 is out in cinemas at the end of February.
Jack Spillane is currently studying for an MA in Multimedia Journalism at Manchester Metropolitan University.