999 a.k.a. “Triple 9”: police code for an officer down
The world is chock full of crime-thrillers, with most courtesy of Martin Scorcese; films like “The Departed,” “Gangs of New York,” “Black Mass,” “The Untouchables” and “Goodfellas” just to name some of the best. But when the trailer for “Triple 9” hit the web, I was confused and intrigued at the same time. Confused because I hadn’t heard of the film before and I wondered how it went under my nose for so long. Intrigued because…let’s be real here, how could you not be intrigued by this cast? Filled to the brim with A-list talent, this indie-funded crime-thriller had quite a bit to live up to and a lot to live up if it fails.
From the start, we see that the name of the game in “Triple 9” is tension, which director John Hillcoat manages perfectly. From the opening heist sequence, which gave off vibes of “The Dark Knight,” as well as some of the heist missions from “Grand Theft Auto V,” we know that Hillcoat means business in these scenes. Once the film picks up with the characters, thing seem to mellow out in the narrative department, as the film favors to coast a bit in its plot to give its impressive ensemble cast time to perform. This didn’t bother me, as the performances were so good (more on that later), but if “The Departed” can balance both, “Triple 9” could’ve and if it had, no doubt that “Triple 9” could’ve been a classic.
“Triple 9” benefits heavily from its editing by Dylan Tichenor, as he finds a perfect balance between quick cuts and longer tracking shots, all depending on the scene. Yet, Tichenor doesn’t seem to always bite for the obvious, as many of the more exciting scenes in the film benefit from the minimal cuts put forth, but even when the quick cuts occur, it’s never headache inducing, it only seeks to add more tension.
But Hillcoat, with the help of DP Nicolas Karakatsanis, have also created an incredibly vibrant film as well, favoring bold colors and brightly lit environments, even in the darker of scenes. But in the few scenes of darkness, “Triple 9” finds beauty in it and makes sure that the film can benefit from it. The best thing about the direction in “Triple 9” is, like all the best films, the film never settles in a single place without a damn good reason to do so. Nothing in “Triple 9” feels random or coincidental, it feels carefully controlled.
But we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet: the cast.
With a massive cast lining the film, including, but not limited to, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet, “Triple 9” has no shortage of star power. Affleck, like he did in “The Finest Hours,” takes the gold once more, playing an idealistic cop recently transferred to a rough part of Atlanta, who gets caught up in investigating heists pulled off by workmen of the Russian mafia. Affleck is relatable, but never once has an ounce of arrogance in his performance, as it’s too subtle to inject into that, but strikes a chord as a family man. Ejiofor is a wonderfully crafted anti-hero, heading the heist teams as a favor to his son’s aunt, the leader of the Russian mafia, played by Winslet. Even in the weaker spots of the “Divergent” series, Winslet remained strong as the main villain, Jeanine Matthews and nothing is different here. If Affleck takes the gold, Winslet is hosting the games, as her strong showing as the ruthless leader of Atlanta’s largest organized crime ring is nothing short of glorious. Unlike many supporting performances such as this though, Winslet is given quite a bit to work with, rather than just playing a fleeting face, she has quite a bit to do with the film, showing her face and getting involved in the plot.
The final 15 minutes of “Triple 9” aren’t nearly as thrilling as the 100 that precede it, unfortunately, as the film takes the story a step too far, continuing past what could’ve been a perfect stopping point. This gave way to some shoddy conclusions to some really great characters, which I really wasn’t here for. Had the film been a bit more ambiguous with its ending (which is already ambiguous enough), it could’ve kept a perfectly consistent pace.
Having a film set in my hometown of Atlanta is nice, but having one that showcases the city as its own character, is great in my book. While the story itself is a bit tried and true, “Triple 9” works really well as an ensemble piece, giving each actor a chance to shine in some quite unique characters. Hillcoat’s direction, paired with both the image produced by Karakatsanis and editing by Tichenor make the film an incredibly aesthetically pleasing to watch and proves that crime-thrillers don’t ever have to be dull and dark. The entire cast, Affleck and Winslet in particular, put forth stellar performances in some truly nail-biting scenes. There were a few moments in “Triple 9” where I felt the film take from another, more iconic film, but there wasn’t a single moment in which I was bored.
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams, Gal Gadot, with Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet
Runtime: 115 minutes
Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity.
Open Road Films and Worldview Entertainment present, in association with Sierra Pictures, an Anonymous Content and Madriver Films production, in association with Surefire Capital, a film by John Hillcoat, “Triple 9”