Sunday, February 28, 2016

Review: Triple 9

Image courtesy of Open Road Films.
John Hillcoat's "Triple 9" has such a terrific cast that it's a shame they are mostly wasted on spouting exposition in a cop thriller that gets more plot heavy as its twists are revealed. The film, which gives Atlanta the treatment L.A. and New York were used to in the 1980s, is a grim, violent and occasionally exciting crime story that never quite rises above its material.

The picture, which borrows themes and styles from better movies by Michael Mann, Sidney Lumet and William Friedkin, follows the exploits of a group of dirty cops who have staged a series of violent bank heists to retrieve information that might set a notorious Russian mobster free from prison. His vicious wife (Kate Winslet, nearly unrecognizable) is in charge of these operations, but it's up to a former special ops guy named Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing the rare unlikable character) to run the show.

There is an obvious reason why Atwood leads these increasingly dangerous robberies, which include banks and vaults: his son is being held sort-of hostage by Winslet's mobster, whose sister is the mother of the child. It's not so clear why the crooked cops played by Clifton Collins Jr. and Anthony Mackie or the two brothers - Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul - involved in the heists have agreed to do so.

The film's title refers to a police code for "officer down." This figures into the story as Mackie's dirty cop figures that Atlanta's police will be drawn to the killing of an officer and, therefore, allow for he and his pals to make their most daring robbery. The cop to be shot down is his new partner (Casey Affleck), whose uncle (Woody Harrelson) is a big wig in the police department.

One of the problems from the film's outset is how most of the characters are vaguely drawn. We don't get much of a sense of any of them, other than Harrelson having a drinking problem, Ejiofor wanting the custody of his son and Paul's junkie ex-cop feeling increasingly guilty at the prospect of setting up Affleck, whose character is hinted at having some sort of rough and tumble background that is never elaborated.

The heist sequences and a few of the film's chase sequences are well staged, although one in which the robbers take over a highway, shooting up the entire scene and then escaping borders on being ludicrous.

Hillcoat's oeuvre has primarily been filled with grim stories such as these, including the far more successful "The Proposition" and Cormac McCarthy adaptation of "The Road." "Triple 9" is more in line with his previous feature, "Lawless," another American crime drama that never quite clicked.

The price of admission for Hillcoat's latest can nearly be justified by the fact that there is so much talent onscreen. However, they are given little to do in a film that settles for following crime movie and police drama cliches through and through. This could have been a much better film considering the talent involved, but it's mostly just routine.

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