By James Hancock February 24th, 2016
When the people of Atlanta, Ga were persuaded to let the crew of Triple 9 to make a movie set in their city, I doubt they fully understood that this movie might make people afraid to go there for the rest of their lives. A ferocious crime saga from writer Matt Cook and director John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless), Triple 9 is about as dark as thrillers get without an NC-17 rating. It is a tale of a gang of highly trained thieves made up of corrupt cops and ex-military and the only people they fear more than each other are the representatives of the Russian Mafia who set them up with their scores. Atlanta, as depicted in this film, comes across like a failed city on the verge of collapse. Latino gangs appear to outnumber the police by a severe margin with most of the police force surrendering to drugs and alcohol just to cope. The story unfolds from a variety of perspectives on both sides of the law and in some cases those shady characters who try keep one foot in both worlds. This is one of the best crime films I’ve seen in quite a while. I have a few small reservations about the details of the plot, but overall I was on the edge of my seat for the entire ride. If your taste in movies embraces bleak, hopeless action movies with very few good guys to root for, Triple 9 should be right up your alley.
What makes this movie work is the extraordinary cast, one that includes Aaron Paul, Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clifton Collins Jr., Gail Gadot, John Hillcoat, Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus and Woody Harrelson. Having seen Casey Affleck in this movie, I’m convinced that Warner Bros went with the wrong Affleck to play Batman. Casey Affleck delivers one of the best performances of his career as one of the only relatively good guys fighting crime in Atlanta. He’s also tough as nails in ways I would never have expected. Some might argue that Winslet’s Russian accent sounds suspiciously similar to the Polish accent she utilized in Steve Jobs but she plays the part with such icy intensity that I totally bought it. Anthony Mackie also deserves some serious praise. I’m so accustomed to him playing such an all American good guy as the Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that at first it was incredibly jarring to see him play such a morally compromised individual. The only weak performance in the bunch might be by Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman herself, who basically comes across like sex furniture but then again that is the type of character she is playing so it isn’t fair to criticize her but so much.
***mild spoilers ahead***
But the real discovery for me tonight was seeing my first film by director John Hillcoat. I should have already seen either The Road or Lawless but for whatever reason I have failed to do so. His approach to the aesthetic of Triple 9 might occasionally be guilty of the shaky cam style of filmmaking that I have no use for, but overall Hillcoat does a very solid job of shooting the film in a gritty, intense style while juggling multiple storylines simultaneously. My only real grievance with the movie is with the story construction. I went into this movie cold and was pretty confused over what was happening in the first ten minutes. That I didn’t mind so much in that I like a movie that demands that audiences sit up and pay attention, but ***spoiler alert*** as the movie draws to a close and characters are dropping left and right, the movie kind of falls apart. Triple 9 does not really have a climax but instead simply stops when the filmmakers run out of characters to kill (except one). I was left a little nonplussed scratching my head as the credits started to roll. But don’t let this small knock against the movie dissuade you from seeing it. On the whole Triple 9 is a ruthless movie with balls of steel, the type of crime film that we see far too seldom.
I am one of the Co-Hosts of Wrong Reel and you can find more of our content here: