From Open Road Films comes this description: “In TRIPLE 9, a crew of dirty cops is blackmailed by the Russian mob to execute a virtually impossible heist. The only way to pull it off is to manufacture a 999, police code for ‘officer down.’ Their plan is turned upside down when the unsuspecting rookie they set up to die foils the attack, triggering a breakneck, action-packed finale filled with double-crosses, greed and revenge.”
And that’s the elevator pitch, as long as you can say it in seven seconds. But one of the problems with such an ambitious script idea is executing it. I challenge any viewer having just seen “Triple 9” to explain its plot, because the synopsis from Open Road Films leaves quite a bit out.
• The FILM: “Triple 9”
• CRITIC RATING: Two and a half stars
• STARRING: Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer, Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Casey Affleck , Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Clifton Collins Jr.
• MPAA RATING: R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity. 115 minutes.
• BEHIND THE SCENES: Directed by John Hillcoat; written by Matt Cook.
• TRIVIA FROM IMDb: Michael B. Jordan was originally cast but he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. He was replaced by Anthony Mackie.
Like the cast, which is a veritable Who’s Who in Hollywood: Gal Gadot (that’s Wonder Woman to you), Teresa Palmer, Kate Winslet (Rose!), Norman Reedus (that’s Darrel to you), Aaron Paul (yo, it’s Jesse Pinkman!), Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie (The Falcon), Woody Harrelson (Woody!) and Clifton Collins Jr., among a few others.
Yes, that’s a lot of talented people, but many are grossly underused (Palmer, playing a barely-there wife of a cop in waiting), or miscast (Winslet, playing a matriarch of a crime family). Meanwhile, others are so perfectly cast they might as well have just walked from one set to the other (I’m talking to you, Reedus, playing Darrel with a gun instead of a bow), or they’re making a career out of playing drug addicts (Paul playing Mr. Pinkman again). Typecasting comes to mind with these guys, as well as with Harrelson, although that’s not to say he doesn’t steal every scene he’s in.
Meanwhile others show off their chops, and display a range unseen in some of their other projects, such as Affleck, Ejiofor and Mackie. Affleck specifically provides a comparatively bright spot in a dark movie, one in which you find yourself rooting for the least of multiple evils. They are also the focus of a rather complicated story, one that has its fair share of plot holes.
• Story continues below video
Which is a shame since “Triple 9” has so much going for it, in addition to its cast. The tension simmers in the opening scene and then boils over in the first action sequence. This and other such sequences are gritty and realistic, aided by a soundtrack that seems nonexistent most of the time, until wisps of ambient sounds coalesce into rudimentary but propelling music. The soundtrack and effects never get in the way of the realism of the action sequences, which are gory enough to earn the well-deserved R-rating on their own. And the hand-held technique is perfectly balanced, providing the realism of a documentary without making the viewers dizzy.
But what gets shaky is the plot. As multiple lines intertwine, the weaknesses develop. Between the importance of family and loyalty over tremendous greed, and the double-crosses that pile on top of double-crosses, “Triple 9” gets messy and unconvincing. The clunky exposition tries to explain everything early on, but then gives up halfway through. The mechanics of the plot take over, which admittedly allows for some satisfying paybacks and comeuppances, but it fails to answer many of the questions regarding motivations that crop up.
That’s a problem, since we have so many great actors onscreen creating some riveting characters, whom we eventually fail to connect with, or care about. It’s also a shame that so many genuinely taut action scenes fail to matter in the end.
“Triple 9” is a well-made film from a production standpoint, but it trips over its problematic plot on its way to painting a very depressing picture of urban life in America.