Though falling somewhat short of the greatness it’s clearly striving for, John Hillcoat’s (The Proposition, The Road) shift away from grim wastelands to a very urban brand of hell nevertheless makes for a rewarding, superbly-acted crime thriller for those prepared to hunker down for two-hours of full-tilt grimness.
Michael Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor) leads a group of criminals and corrupt cops who find themselves blackmailed by the de facto leader of the Russian mob, Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), into carrying out a seemingly impossible heist. How will they get it done? They will pull off a “triple nine”, the police call code for an officer down, by plotting the murder of rookie cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck).
It’s worth knowing from the outset that this isn’t some flippant piece of light PG-13 entertainment; Triple 9 is in many respects a nasty, misanthropic film with buckets of bloodshed and a high body count to match. There’s certainly an undercurrent of extremely dark humour, though for the most part, Hillcoat’s film bathes alongside men and women with little regard for others outside their direct sphere of influence, no matter whether they have families or not.
Brutal from its opening heist sequence through to its abrupt freeze-frame ending, the film nevertheless has more on its mind than a heap of corpses; a stellar cast – also including the likes of Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael K. Williams (in a quick but memorable cameo), Teresa Palmer and Gal Gadot – are mostly dealt well fleshed-out characters, and so when some of them catch a bullet or worse, you’ll most likely care. It’s worth mentioning, however, that despite being built up as a meaty role, Kate Winslet’s screen time is disappointingly scant throughout, transfixing though she is in every scene.
Those going in expecting a high-concept heist flick might actually be somewhat disappointed that the film doubles down on character banter and slow-building tension, though it also serves up a thrilling third act, bolstered by Hillcoat’s typically assured, steely direction.
Almost too-packed with terrific actors to truly do all of them justice, Triple 9 is still an enthralling, oft-disturbing thriller which certainly could have aspired to something less familiar, but does a rock-solid job with old parts all the same.
Triple 9 is in UK cinemas February 19th and US cinemas February 26th