Triple 9

Posted by February 25, 2016

We know there will be double-crossings galore. We know we will encounter characters whose allegiances are shifty, and we know there will be others whose allegiances are firmly on one side of the moral line or the other. We know that characters won't survive, and we know to set our internal clocks to count on a great deal of their deaths occurring during the climax. We know these characters will have quite the potty mouths on them and that they will inhabit or visit places of terrific shadiness within the rundown streets and neighborhoods of their city. We know these things because we've seen elements (of plot, of character, of milieu) that make up Matt Cook's screenplay for "Triple 9" before in many other films across decades of genre efforts.

This screenplay offers little variation on that score, though the starry cast is a deep one. On the side of the law, we have Woody Harrelson as Jeffrey Allen, a sergeant detective with the Atlanta Police Department, and a brooding Casey Affleck as Jeffrey's nephew Chris. The former is an intuitive man, catching on to the sensation of something much bigger than the case that has fallen into the department's lap. The latter has a Concerned Wife played by Teresa Palmer and is partnered up with Anthony Mackie's Marcus Belmont, who educates him quickly and bluntly about the streets on which he must patrol his beat. When severed heads follow up a bank robbery, obstruction of justice, Marcus says, doesn't exist in these parts.

Of course, Marcus is a dirty cop, unbeknownst to his new partner, having taken part in that robbery with a crew whose members include Clifton Collins Jr. as another cop on the bad guys' payroll named Jorge Rodriguez, Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul as brothers Russel and Gabe Welch, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Russel's old Special Forces buddy Michael Atwood. Much of the more substantial drama in a movie that mostly boils down to exposition bridging the gap between well-staged action setpieces lies in how close Gabe can bring the whole thing straight to the department's front door. Kate Winslet plays the wife of a Russian-Israeli crime boss about to be transferred back into Israeli custody, and Gal Gadot is her sister and, coincidentally, Michael's love interest and the mother to his son.

None of these people is a character to speak of, only populating Cook's screenplay as archetypes within a genre effort that begins and ends with some sense of urgency but whose middle section is an exercise in jogging in place. The performances are adequate enough, with Harrelson having the most fun of the cast (Upon the bank manager's concern regarding the well-being of his family based on pictures of them shown to him as a threat, Jeffrey responds with, "Be careful of what you InstaGoogleTweetFace"), and director John Hillcoat and cinematographer Nicholas Karakatsanis do a solid job of building tension on a superficial level, especially with a raid on an apartment building midway through the proceedings. But "Triple 9" simply goes through the motions of such tension without examining it or giving us characters who feel like they are a part of its aftermath.

Film Information

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Michael Atwood), Casey Affleck (Chris Allen), Anthony Mackie (Marcus Belmont), Aaron Paul (Gabe Welch), Clifton Collins Jr. (Jorge Rodriguez), Woody Harrelson (Sgt. Det. Jeffrey Allen), Kate Winslet (Irina Vlaslov), Norman Reedus (Russel Welch), Gal Gadot (Elena Vlaslov), Teresa Palmer (Michelle Allen).

Directed by John Hillcoat and written by Matt Cook.

Rated R (violence/language throughout, drug use, nudity).

115 minutes.

Released on February 26, 2016.