For every great moment that happens in John Hillcoat’s “Triple 9,” which releases nationwide on Feb. 26, there are moments where the film could have had more than what is presented on the screen. Even following standard procedure for this genre, Hillcoat manages to pull out a few noteworthy surprises. But the film’s biggest flaws are that it’s a little too claustrophobic with the amount of characters contained within the barely two-hour story, and the pacing, at times, oozes slower than molasses.
That’s not to say that “Triple 9” is not worth recommending; it’s certainly worth a glimpse. Those are just a few reasons as to why it’s a solid genre story that, given the talent behind the camera and in front of it, could have been more.
It all begins with a bank heist – and a well-shot one at that. A group of corrupt cops and former soldiers (Anthony Mackie, Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., and Chiwetel Ejiofor) think they just pulled off a successful robbery. But their prized possession is rigged, leading to a brilliant scene in which a cloud of red smoke is seen streaking down the freeway.
Since their first heist was a bust, the group must take on another mission handed down to them by the Russian mafia – led by Kate Winslet’s Irina Vlaslov. Yes, that same Kate Winslet – whom we usually see touting red hair – has gone full blonde for this role and speaks with a Russian accent. She’s unrecognizable at first, and in the end, it’s a blast to see her act as chaotic as her character gets.
The group devises a plan to stage a 999, also known as an “officer down” call, in order to pull off another big heist. And since a lot of them know the ins and the outs of the units in which they work, it shouldn’t be a difficult task, especially when their target is a rookie cop (a great Casey Affleck). Oh, but it is; it’s much more daunting than even they expect.
Hillcoat crafts some intense shootouts throughout “Triple 9.” Some cuts are unnecessary – one being a reaction shot from tenants in an apartment complex after a shooting – and great moments end up being choppy ones. But when the bullets fly, and Atticus Ross’ score accompanies the scenes, the film gets pretty gripping.
As for the actors, they give fine performances. But with so many involved, the story becomes a little too cluttered and confusing for its own good. Woody Harrelson is one of the stand-outs here as the drug-addicted Detective Jeffrey Allen, giving the film an ample amount of comic relief. Ejiofor, Mackie, and Collins are all especially good with their performances, as is Paul. Reedus gets a little underused, though, and it gets to a point where one could forget that he was even in the movie.
Even with too much taking place, “Triple 9” is able to shine in several spots. Though it does feel like something that could have and should have been superb, the final product is fine as it is.