* A ‘999’ is apparently the police code for ‘Urgent / All Units Respond / Officer Down’.
I had every intention of seeing this one in the theatres, due to the fact that I love me a good ‘cops n robbers’ drama, and the films that I’ve seen of Australian director John Hillcoat (2005’s ‘The Proposition’, 2009’s ‘The Road’, and 2012’s ‘Lawless’) have all been of a solid, entertaining quality. But alas, Life intervened and I was denied the opportunity…until now.
‘Triple 9’ opens with a group of rough n tumble armed robbers taking down a city bank in downtown Atlanta, GA. They do so with almost military precision and timing, and narrowly make their escape (after Aaron Paul’s low-life ‘Gabe’ character gets greedy and accidentally steals a dye pack, which nearly proves disastrous). Shortly after this, it’s revealed that half the crew are active – duty police officers, while the other half are ex-military. One member of the crew, ‘Marcus’ (Anthony Mackie) is indebted to the sister of his ex-wife (Gal Gadot), who just happens to be a high-ranking member of the Russian Jewish mafia. This cold-blooded bitch, played with near chameleon-like ability by Kate Winslet, withholds the promised payment for the deed, and orders ‘Marcus’ to get his guys together again for one last, near-impossible heist, before they’ll be payed off and released from their obligations. In order to let ‘Marcus’ know that she means business, she arranges to have one of his guys caught and tortured to death, which ‘ups’ the stakes for everyone. Fueled by this, it’s determined that the only real way to avoid getting caught, is to kill a fellow cop on the other side of town and use the overwhelming response of the police department (Code 999) as cover for the heist on a Homeland Security holding facility. Into this scenario enters ‘Officer Chris Allen’ (Casey Affleck), a recent transfer who gets saddled with a reluctant ‘Marcus’ and instantly begins butting heads with the beleaguered, crooked cop. It doesn’t take long for the crew to decide that ‘Chris’ is to be the victim / distraction for the job, and the wheels are set in motion to make this happen. What they don’t count on is the off-to-the-side involvement of ‘Chris’ well-known (and secretly substance abusing) detective uncle ‘Jeffrey’ (Woody Harrelson), who begins to sense that something is not right…and that his nephew may be in mortal danger while investigating the bank robbery. From there, it becomes a twisty game of violence, corruption, crosses and double crosses.
I liked this flick. It reminded me of ‘Heat’ (1995), ‘Training Day’ (2001), ‘The Town’ (2010), and the good parts of ‘Sabotage’ (2014)…and that mix worked for me. It’s a shame that this one didn’t even make it’s budget back on release (it’s a flop that ended up about $8 000 000 in the hole), as there’s some solid work on display here, on both sides of the camera.
First off, Hillcoat’s direction worked for me…again. As I mentioned, I’ve enjoyed the previous films from him. While his visual direction is very disciplined and competent, he also has the ability to bring an ‘edge’ to his flicks…’teeth’, if you will. When warranted, he doesn’t skimp on the blood and nastiness, which is what a story like this requires, in my humble opinion (just maybe not to the deplorable levels that ‘Sabotage’ went…though it does come close a couple times). The robbery scenes are well-handled and there are some cool and intense shoot-outs that pop up…especially one in which Casey Affleck leads a raid on a ‘projects’ from behind a riot shield and we follow him through the whole thing. Exhilarating stuff! The quieter moments are good too, some having a good dose of menace to them, while others had just enough heart.
The cast is great. On top of Anthony Mackie ( ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’), Casey Affleck (‘Gone Baby Gone’), Woody Harrelson (‘Natural Born Killers’), Kate Winslet (‘Titanic’) and Aaron Paul (‘Breaking Bad’), we also get Norman Reedus (‘The Walking Dead’), Clifton Collins Jr. (‘The Rules of Attraction’), Chiwetol Ejiofor (‘The Martian’), and Michael K. Williams (‘Boardwalk Empire’). Not everyone gets enough screen time, but they do what they need to do to effectively tell this sordid tale. Aside from a couple of uncertain moments with Winslet’s Russian accent, I really didn’t have any complaints with this accomplished group of actors.
I loved the music by Bobby Krlic, Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne. There was a dark, Trip Hop vibe to it (currently my favorite genre), and it fit the look and feel of this flick like a glove. Very cool stuff.
If I had to complain, I’d say that some of the connections between characters were left a little murky. A bit more ‘flesh’ on the relationships would’ve helped draw the viewer into the drama just a bit more. Also, there is no clear-cut Main Character (MAYBE Casey Affleck’s character?). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it was both odd and refreshing how abruptly some characters were permanently dealt with, leaving me to wonder just who the hell would be left standing at the end of the 1 hour and 55 minute run-time.
All in all, I got what I hoped I’d get from ‘Triple 9’. It was an adult-toned and sometimes nasty, in-the-trenches look at how these crooked cops, and the mobsters/ gangstas they dealt with, operated in this violent criminal underworld. There was some sweet robbery sequences and some gritty, fast-paced shoot-outs in among all the deception and double crosses that emerge. It could definitely be said that some elements are a little close in similarity to some other films out there (‘Training Day’ and ‘The Town’ quickly come to mind), but I think this story makes ample (and acceptable) use of them. I also liked the ambiguousness of the ending. You know that a whole other story dealing with the aftermath is waiting to continue when the credits roll, but having that left to my imagination was just fine with me.
If you like stories about hard-boiled (crooked) cops and armed robbers, with a little Russian Mafia tossed in and a whole lot of suspicion, gunfire, and sprayed blood, then this flick will work for you. It’s well done and I firmly feel that it deserved better at the Box Office. If you come across it…I recommend you give it a shot.