By Jarrod Jones. If you ask me, one of the bigger selling points to John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 has been the opportunity to see how Gal Gadot — our future Wonder Woman — can tackle a movie about grumpy boys fighting amongst each other. Her other movie about pretty much the same thing, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, is less than a month away, after all. But once we enter into the first hour of this sweaty Atlantan heist movie, it becomes abundantly clear that the film has other plans for her, and absolutely none of them are flattering. (For a better idea of how Gadot spent her time on set, just refer to the trailer.) *sigh* Considering the other women in the cast have about as much to do, plus or minus a line of dialogue, it’s not like she ever had a chance to shine anyway.
Instead, Hillcoat’s Triple 9 contents itself by following the ugly lives of pissed-off men. A lot of pissed-off men. Dirty cops, mostly, though there are a couple of former Special Forces as well, all of whom are pretty dead set on using their years of tax-funded training to knock over banks for the Russian mob. Why or how they end up in such quagmire is never touched upon, not once, though Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Michael Atwood seems to consider it a family affair: his tenuous flirtations with Elena (Ms. Gadot) have culminated with bringing a child into this ugly world, a small boy to be dangled in front of Atwood by the more insidious members of Elena’s family whenever his conscience begins to nag at him too loudly. As for everyone else? It’s just something to do.
Michael’s son is being held by Irina Vaslov, played by Kate Winslet. Irina’s the Russian-Israeli wife to a big-time gangster imprisoned back home in the Motherland, a purportedly mean sonuvabitch locked away by Putin himself who just can’t wait to get back to Atlanta in order to unleash whatever hell he’s been dreaming up in his cell. Irina’s pretty keen on seeing her husband come home too, so much in fact that she’s not going to let a little thing like a fortified Homeland Security building keep her from the one key that would spring her beloved free. All she needs are the right men for the job. Good thing she has a talented guy like Michael over a barrel.
Kate Winslet, whose wild mane of blonde hair is far more convincing than her accent, goes to great lengths to make sure we hate Irina. She pushes the buttons that turn people into little more than the high-quality kosher meats her family sells to the public. (Not literally, but you could be fooled into believing that the way Hillcoat frames certain shots.) She does most of this while seething behind her wildly trashy manicure and a fog of cigarette smoke. Her performance brings to mind Kristin Scott Thomas’ turn in Only God Forgives, only it’s nowhere near as daring, nor is it anywhere near as fun.
The same can be said about Triple 9, absolutely: it’s a crime saga that doesn’t go nearly as far as it could, or in some places, definitely should. A primary example of this is Anthony Mackie’s wavering dedication to the score — he’s one of those crooked cops I mentioned before, the man tasked with killing his “without sin” anglo protagonist (Casey Affleck) so the resulting police call (the triple 9) will distract the Atlanta P.D. just long enough so Atwood and his cronies can do what they do best — make Momma Bear happy. Affleck’s Chris Allen is so clean his squeakiness makes him an easy mark to hit amid all this darkness. But he’s also so innately likeable (as guys named “Chris” are designed to be in movies like this) that a sea change within Mackie’s Marcus Belmont is only inevitable. Thing is, all of those emotions occur offscreen.
It’s a recurring problem for this movie. Hillcoat’s latest is an utterly joyless thing that rarely uses its time wisely. It’s lack of real drama squanders veterans like Winslet and, yeah, Woody Harrelson (who has little more to do than puff away at roaches through a set of perplexingly complicated false teeth) when the film ought to be applying their talents to maximize effect. It’s a listless cop drama that owes more to the superior crime thrillers that preceded it, and more so to its cast members who once populated them — AMC alumns Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus, amongst many others, pop by with little to do. Clifton Collins Jr. fares best. His Pacino-esque delivery (“I’ll do a cop — like that.” *snaps fingers*) gives Triple 9 some much needed spark. The only problem with that is Collins, much like everyone else here, is barely in the damn movie.
Directed by John Hillcoat.
Produced by Keith Redmon, Bard Dorros, Marc Butan, Anthony Katagas, Christopher Woodrow, and John Hillcoat.
Written by Matt Cook.
Starring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins, Jr., Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, and Kate Winslet.
4.5 out of 10