Last year’s truly excellent Sicario raised the bar for hard-hitting, brooding action thrillers. Triple 9, in some ways at least, takes the baton and runs with it.
A gang of criminals together with a number of ‘dirty cops’ are up to no good, using their expertise, insider knowledge and street know-how to pull off a number of heists at the behest of the Russian Jewish Mafia.
On what they presume has been the successful completion of their most recent escapade, they are distressed to discover that their paymasters are not only unhappy with its outcome, but insistent upon one further job, blackmailing them in the process.
It’s a job that’s bordering on the impossible, and any thoughts of successfully navigating its myriad issues are impossible without pulling a ‘Triple 9’ distraction tactic (a ‘Triple 9’ being the recognised police reaction code for killing a police officer).
It’s clear that this job is going to be particularly problematic.
With major personal concerns at stake, the gang pursue this final goal, but very quickly all best laid plans begin to unravel and it becomes clear that some of the people they’re depending upon have not read the script properly.
In an increasingly volatile environment, a game of double-cross, bluff and revenge ensues and it’s left to redneck wayward ‘straight’ cop, Jeffrey, (Woody Harrelson), to attempt to foil this plot and come to the aid of Chris (Casey Affleck) – a genuinely straight cop and the unwitting pawn in the criminals’ game – in the process.
There’s good support from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clifton Collins Junior and Norman Reedus, amongst others, all of whom are convincing in their respective, crooked roles, whilst Kate Winslet’s turn as Russian Mafia boss, Irina Vaslov, is both sinister and beguiling.
John Hillcoat’s direction is strong and purposeful, maintaining a good pace and urgency that both captivates and enthrals as the action unfolds. He’s engineered a plot line here that’s powerful and relentless, weaving in and out, wrong-footing as it goes, springing some genuine surprises.
Add to this a thumping soundtrack from Atticus Ross, reminiscent of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s great work in 2015’s Sicario, driving the action on and ramping up suspense levels in the process, and it’s all too good to be true, right?
In some ways, yes, for there’s one key problem with Triple 9.
For all of the good things that it brings to the table, ultimately it comes across as a film whose director has cherry-picked his favourite aspects from any number of his favourite crime thrillers, moulding them all together; not always convincingly. It’s a film therefore that falls victim to its own over-complicated ambition. In attempting to lead the viewer on a merry dance, Triple 9 does rather tie itself in knots, ultimately falling over itself and losing its way a little towards the end.
Don’t let that be a deterrent though.
It’s not perfect. There are flaws and things that perhaps should have been addressed prior to the final cut, haven’t been.
Nevertheless, Triple 9 still successfully manages to pack a considerable punch and stands ably on its own.