Triple 9 is the latest crime thriller from director John Hillcoat; the mind responsible for The Proposition (2005), The Road (2009) and Lawless (2012). With high hopes, it was my second most anticipated film of the year, but it is with regret that my hopes were dashed when this proved to be an unpleasant viewing experience.
The film follows a group of corrupt cops who are forced to pull off dangerous heists when the Russian mafia blackmail them. Of the two featured heists, it is the second that requires a dangerous manoeuvre which puts everyone in danger. With this, it had all the potential to be thrilling and perfected, yet it was never going to top the tremendous Heat (1995).
Unfortunately, the resulting film is a clunky mess. Whilst some areas work, it’s all too inconsistent to work overall. It tries hard to be a grim thriller, but the tone is frequently undermined by the execution. I must regrettably admit that I and the people I went to see Triple 9 with were laughing throughout. It was unintentionally funny in parts, and this is a clear sign that the film failed. The way that certain key moments are put together is simply peculiar.
I find Hillcoat’s filmography to be quite a mixed bag. I loved The Proposition, but found myself indifferent to Lawless. What I do like about him is that he’s tackling a variety of genres. Triple 9 puts him to the test with this heist crime thriller, heavily inspired by Michael Mann. The lighting, framing and style feels like a cheap Heat and Thief (1981) rip-off, yet, it’s more L.A. Takedown (1989) than Heat.
I will say, on a positive note, that the action is done very well for the most part. There is one raid sequence which works very effectively to build tension and portrays modern police utilising military tactics. It creates a theme of urban warfare between the police and gangs. Unfortunately, it’s a sub-plot and theme which just isn’t explored enough, but the potential is present. Overall, however, there just isn’t enough action to keep you engaged because the film doesn’t want to be an action film, and I applaud that.
There’s a lot of abruptness with the violence. It’s very evocative of David Michôd’s work, specifically Animal Kingdom (2010) with how it handled violence. It frequently goes for brief harshness and authenticity. I love Michôd and his style. I found both Animal Kingdom and The Rover (2014) to be terrific. However, Hillcoat doesn’t effectively utilise the brief explosion of bloodshed, and the tone remains flat and dull.
The acting is a mixed bag as the ensemble feels clunky overall. Anthony Mackie and Casey Affleck are great, but Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson and Aaron Paul just didn’t work for me. Mackie was an acting highlight but he couldn’t save it. Both Winslet and Harrelson were just chewing scenery and their over-the-top performances can only make you wince. Paul seems to have become quite typecast which is a shame and a waste of his talent.
Overall, Triple 9 has its moments of greatness, but these moments are very few and far between. It’s a very mishandled film and the execution can only come across as ineffective and cringeworthy. Hillcoat is unable to craft a film which exceeds beyond being generic, mainly because the atmosphere never truly works.
- Reviewed by Luke Compton