Corrupt cops have been a go-to topic for screenwriters in Hollywood for decades now, turning up some true classics in the process. Just think of LA Confidential and Training Day – contrasting in style, but two of the best thrillers to come out in the last 20 years.
John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 isn’t quite up to that standard and it falls behind the more recent likes of The Town and End Of Watch, but there’s plenty there to make it well worth a couple of hours of your time.
With two homicide detectives (Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins Jr) teaming up with two former Navy SEALs turned bad (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Norman Reedus) and an alcoholic delinquent ex-cop (Aaron Paul), the five-strong crew target a downtown Atlanta bank in a bid to not only make a bunch of dough, but get the proverbial Russian monkey (Kate Winslet) off their backs.
It’s the usual heist-gone-wrong narrative that you see week in, week out on the small screen and that’s its chief problem; the story never quite elevates to the intricacy of The Town or the emotional gut punch of End Of Watch, despite throwing in the curve ball of the 999 itself – a police code for officer down, guaranteed to send every police unit storming to the scene.
Where it does excel though is the cast. Ejiofor’s Michael Atwood anchors the core group, a disenfranchised former military man clearly torn as he attempts to balance the pressure of an overbearing Russian mob with being a good father to his young son, the product of a relationship with Gal Gadot’s Elena, the sister of Winslet’s matriarch Irina.
Collins Jr seems to have tapped deep into The Wire, drawing from Dominic West’s McNulty, to craft the conniving Franco Rodriguez while Mackie continues to build on the promise shown early on in his career with Half Nelson with his turn as detective Marcus Belmont, a guy molded by the Atlanta streets who has to deal with an ever-wavering moral compass as his situation escalates.
That’s not to say that some of the cast fall well short of the mark. Winslet’s turn borders on parody while seemingly being the token shoe-horned ‘strong female character’ that studios clearly feel pushed to include.
In fact, she’s practically the only female actor with any sort of respectable screen time; Teresa Palmer is criminally reduced to a mere sexual release for a male character in a smattering of scenes.
And its near impossible to tell whether Woody Harrelson is even acting these days; his unhinged Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen can, at times, sway maniacally from restrained to outright bat-shit crazy.
But those mishaps are all forgiven thanks to Casey Affleck’s performance as Chris Allen, a wet-behind-the-ears cop with good intentions transferred to homicide and teamed with Belmont. It’s an understated performance – an almost effortless one – that binds Allen to the chaos of life as Georgia police perfectly before his actions see him circled as the perfect guy to bump off for the 999.
If you had to put money on the next actor to experience the same sort of renaissance as Matthew McConaughey, then you could do worse than back Affleck. This as unshowy, gripping performance which could set up him up for stardom once the highly praised Manchester By The Sea finally gets a release later this year.
Despite a sometimes lackadaisical forgettable plot, the stellar ensemble married with multiple tense, wonderfully crafted action sequences – one set in the shadowy halls of an abandoned apartment block is particularly impressive – makes Triple 9 a must for fans of both the crime genre and grounded, gritty characters navigating the minefield of the city streets.
Oh and Michael K Williams plays a transgender informant named Sweet Pea – what else could you possibly want in a movie?