The violent new cop thriller Triple 9 opens with a gang of highly trained robbers infiltrating a bank, and pulling off a daring, daylight heist without a hitch. Almost.
I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I’ll tell you this – it’s a terrific sequence, superbly executed by director John Hillcoat, who knows his way around a tense car chase and a shootout.
Too bad the rest of the film is seldom as gripping.
It turns out that the perpetrators of the heist are a team of crooked cops and ex-military men pushed against the wall by a sadistic
Russian mob boss (an excellent Kate Winslet), who’s got the gang’s leader (Chiwetel Ejiofor) by the balls. When she orders a second, more dangerous break-in, the gang plans the killing of a noble rookie officer (Casey Affleck) in order to distract the force, and thereby enable them to pull off the job.
Hillcoat creates a palpable sense of dread and foreboding in this anarchic world of dirty cops and dirtier thugs. Filmed on the mean streets of Atlanta, this is a pitiless, cynical world where practically no one is entirely clean, and where friendships and partnerships don’t count for much.
To be fair, it’s an intriguing premise, and the cast isn’t too shabby. Ejiofor, as the desperate father whose son is being kept away from him, and Anthony Mackie as one of the corrupt cops, are in particularly good form. It’s the script (by Matt Cook) that is the problem here. It holds up reasonably well in the film’s first hour, but becomes progressively corny as the chips begin to fall. What I found particularly disconcerting was the misguided suggestion that these brutal cop-killers are the ‘heroes’ here – the characters we’re meant to root for.
Dark and moody and mildly engaging despite its inconsistencies, Triple 9 benefits from a solid cast – including Woody Harrelson as an eccentric detective investigating the gang. It’s not the best crime thriller you’ll see, but there are some powerful moments here. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.