Director : John Hillcoat
Writer : Matt Cook
John Hillcoat is the type of Director that likes you to keep one bullet for yourself. He’ll let you save one brother, but only if you kill the other one first. So going into a heist movie of his, you know it isn’t going to be Ocean’s Eleven. And sure enough, Triple 9 turns out to be a tangled quagmire of shifting loyalties with one foot planted on either side of a Thin Blue line that has never been so blurry, leaving no option other than to be kicked in the balls.
It opens with a bank robbery. The crew are organised and professional, but while we see they work well as a team, we don’t yet know the individual players. As they spill out from the bank it feels like Heat, but Michael Mann’s masterpiece was a story of cops chasing robbers. In the world of Triple 9, that feels like a fairytale.
With references to Vladimir Putin and the Cartels, the story alludes to a larger world, but stays mostly local. Hillcoat’s The Road was set in a dystopian future after a cataclysmic event and this version of Atlanta seems like it needs one.
In the quieter moments between the set pieces, there is a sense of hopelessness that brings to mind The Wire. There’s a feeling of anarchy, of a place on the edge where anyone might carry a gun and not care enough about the consequences not to use it. Even the kids are armed and the ones that aren’t want toy guns until they get the real thing.
Good Cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) is ex-military and wants to ‘make a difference’. When he joins the Gang Squad his fellow cops mock his idealism. But not fitting in is the least of his problems, while his eyes may well be wide, he’d be better off if they were in the back of his head.
While his big brother Ben has double dipped in superhero suits, Casey Affleck has doubled down on alternative movie choices. Whether this in penance for his family name or simply a younger sibling differentiating himself, the result is a level of credibility that comic-book movie cheques can’t buy. Now 40, he has grown into the 'everyman with an edge' roles that he used to be too weird for. He plays it straight here and does it well.
The crew doesn’t get paid for the initial robbery and are forced to complete one more impossible job. There is no way to get in and out before the police arrive so they need a diversion. What they choose is far more dramatic than anything they would have seen on Hogan’s Heroes reruns and how each of them react to it is the film central tension.
The ensemble is large and varied. Chiwetel Ejiofor stands out as the crew leader Michael and Kate Winslet copes well with the unfamiliar genre and accent, providing the required coldness for the role. Woody Harrelson is brilliant as the Senior Detective that despite his substance abuse, or perhaps because of it, is good at his job. He see’s all the pieces but it’s unclear if he’ll put the puzzle together in time.
Hillcoat has put together a gripping movie that doesn’t let you go. The focus on such a range of characters could have diluted the story, but instead gives you multiple angles on the same thing. He is drawn to stories of moral dilemma's but here most characters have no morals at all, and the main takeaway is that it's the one who is willing to do what the other isn’t who wins. And occasionally you just need someone looking out for you.
A Must See