Blu-ray Review: ‘Triple 9’

The creative team behind “Triple 9” treats an audience like a person that is playing chess for the very first time. Director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Matt Cook lay out all the pieces/characters, start moving them around, and essentially say, “Learn as you go, buddy.”

Therein lies the greatness, but also the main flaw of “Triple 9.” It’s okay to run with a slow burn, character-driven plot that challenges a viewer, but there are many moments in “Triple 9” that don’t reveal enough and require laser focus to follow.

“Triple 9” begins by dropping you right into an intense and brilliantly staged bank robbery in the middle of the day in downtown Atlanta. This highly trained crew consists of three seasoned thieves, the leader, Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), brothers Russel (Norman Reedus) and Gabe (Aaron Paul), and two crooked cops, Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.). Somehow, “Triple 9” makes you want them to succeed in doing wrong, especially when a red dye pack explodes as they speed down a highway in their getaway van.

After the robbery, the opening credits attempt to introduce us (somewhat awkwardly) to the rest of the players in “Triple 9.” Major Crimes Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) is assigned to the robbery and the movie’s first major coincidental plot development also occurs as Jeffrey’s nephew, Chris (Casey Affleck), starts his first day with Atlanta’s gang crime police unit. Wouldn’t you know it, but Chris’ new partner? Of course, it’s the aforementioned dirty cop, Marcus.

Things get even murkier when Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) shows up. She runs a Jewish Russian crime syndicate and, for reasons never to be explained, is able to force Michael’s crew to rob a Department of Homeland Security building. Need it to be muddier? Michael has a son with Irina’s sister, Elena (Gal Gadot), which only partly explains his motivation to do Irina’s bidding.

The only pure soul in all of “Triple 9” is Chris, who “wants to make a difference.” This is not more apparent than during his lead of an apartment building raid. Hillcoat and cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis create a hand held camera action sequence so claustrophobic that it places you right in the line of fire. In fact, watching police officers decked out in tactical gear as they clear a tiny bathroom has never been more sweat-inducing.

Throughout the movie, the police code “triple 9” is used, which can be easily Googled. As it is the name of the movie, it’s a key element to the story and causes Marcus and Gabe to give pause to their crew’s dastardly plans.

While there are aspects of “Triple 9” to like and dislike, Kate Winslet is shockingly the worst one. Her Russian accent is brutal as she noticeably slips into her natural accent in between horribly distracting enunciation. Her casting begs the question, “Why not cast a Russian actress?”

Other than Winslet’s ridiculous speech patterns, the rest of the cast is just as good as their pedigree. At this point, Aaron Paul could play a sketchy, jittering junkie in his sleep and Anthony Mackie makes being the worst kind of cop still seem cool. Woody Harrelson does what Woody Harrelson does, laying that southern accent on thick as he spouts off wise-ass remarks in between puffs off a joint. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a bit outside his normal comfort zone, playing what’s best described as an “intelligent punk”, and he probably should play evil characters more often.

The two standouts in “Triple 9” are Casey Affleck (as to be expected) and Clifton Collins Jr., a character actor of the highest order. Collins Jr. is charming, deliciously evil, and perfectly sleazy. He hasn’t had such a prominent role in a major movie in quite some time, but proves that there is nary a part that he cannot slide right into.

It’s safe to add “Triple 9” to the list of Casey Affleck movies in which he elevates the material and makes it better than it truly deserves. At this point, it’s difficult to understand how he is not a massive star attracting roles that should shower him in award recognition. It’s not out of this world to compare him to Paul Newman, a good looking actor that is seemingly disregarded based on those good looks.

“Triple 9” is a solid action movie that is desperately trying to be Michael Mann’s “Heat”, but with an under two hour runtime. With nearly a dozen characters running around, that’s a near impossibility. The middle section slightly drags, but overall, “Triple 9” is a satisfying action/crime movie that is much better than the normal movie studio February dumping ground.

On Digital HD now and Blu-ray, DVD & VOD May 31st.

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