Triple 9 is a prime example of a cop thriller that should have been made for TV rather than for the big screen. Director John Hillcoat has assembled a tremendous cast. He is telling a complicated story with multiple characters, but is trying to shoehorn it into a running time of less than two hours. If it was an HBO series, it could have run at 10 times that length.
Matt Cook's screenplay doesn't skimp on the gangster movie stereotypes. There are nods here to Michael Mann, Goodfellas, James Ellroy and even 1940s film noir. Brilliant young Flemish cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis shoots the film in an edgy and frenetic fashion, with constant reframing and use of handheld camera. For all the complexities, the premise here is simple enough.
A crew of corrupt cops and former soldiers led by Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor in action man mode) are carrying out heists on behalf of Russian-Israeli mobsters (hence predictable jokes about the "Kosher Nostra").
The queen pin of these thugs is Irina Vlasov, played by Kate Winslet in memorably over the top fashion with a thick Russian accent that not even Meryl Streep could have topped. Imagine Rasputin crossed with Cruella de Vil and you'll come close to her essence. Anthony Mackie is a not very trustworthy cop. Casey Affleck is his new partner. Harrelson is Affleck's uncle, a hard-bitten, worldly wise cop with a sixth sense for sniffing out corruption.
The film has all the ingredients you'd find in any perfectly serviceable, perfectly forgettable B movie – the chases, the blackmail, the shoot-outs. It is just hard to understand why a director and actors of such distinction are tackling such hackneyed material.
On television, The Shield and The Wire have covered similar territory in much more effective fashion.
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