So once again we have survived.

Triple 9

tn_triple9TRIPLE 9 – being from John Hillcoat, the director of THE PROPOSITION, THE ROAD and LAWLESS – is a cops ‘n robbers movie where the dirty details of the setting, the eccentric character and actor moments, and the suffocating cloud of near-hopelessness in mood and content are given a little more energy than narrative. Even so, it is fairly effective as a heist/suspense thriller and is handily pushed over the finish line by its A+ cast who all came excited to play in this heightened world of crooked Atlanta cops and mercenaries forced by Russian-Jewish gangsters to try to steal from the Department of Homeland Security. The specifics are all odd enough to make police corruption stories seem fresh.

The movie opens with a carload of sweaty, dangerous men discussing and then launching into a credits-sequence daylight bank robbery. It’s only after their messy escape (which includes a van driving fast through traffic while filled with red dye pack smoke and machine guns fired on gridlocked civilians) that we see the badges come out and realize that most of these guys are cops. (Others, we hear later, are “special ops guys” turned private security contractors.) They actually change out of their stained clothes and go straight to work. That’s a long day! I bet they smell pretty ripe, too.

The score by Atticus Ross and friends provides a constant low grade electronic pulse to keep you nervous until the next burst of professional mayhem depicted with Michael Mann-like matter-of-factness. Professionals in the violence industry ply their trade with practiced precision – get on the ground there, look at these photos of your family, shoot that guy – that sometimes goes off the trail into messy chaos. That’s just how it goes sometimes. Most of the time, it’s clear, they know exactly what they’re doing as they burn their getaway car or detonate a bomb in the bank. To them it’s just a flash inside some windows that they see from a distance, accompanied by a muffled popping sound.

mp_triple9These savage intrusions into the regular world have a realistic, every day look to them, but cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis (BULLHEAD, THE DROP, CUB) also dips into some more stylized night scenes with bold colors and dirty smears of texture within deep shadows, like film noir with a splash of Argento.

Our sole ray of hope and sunshine in this hellscape of almost-all-bad-guys is Chris Allen (Casey Affleck, SOUL SURVIVORS), an ex-Marine (we know from the USMC window decal as well as how he carries himself) who gets transferred “from Zone 2” and training-dayed up with two-faced heister cop Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie, NOTORIOUS). Chris enters the fray with a casual what-is-this-bullshit outsider perspective that gets him dressed down by Belmont. I wonder if Hillcoat, as an Australian, has a similar approach to making an American cop movie. So many movies about this kinda stuff seem dull and routine. This one feels exotic.

Chris is the hero, but he’s no supercop. Honestly he’s kinda slow to pick up on the nefarious planning around him that involves killing him as a diversion for the heist. Apparently the title is police code for an officer down, not just the number of the beast upside down.

Despite Hillcoat’s heightened image of inner city Atlanta as a dangerous inferno populated by shirtless dudes who are almost more tattoo than skin and will flip out when you try to talk to them, we also know that Chris saw way worse in Iraq. Four severed heads on a car hood as a message from a cartel don’t even register as that big of a deal to him, and the feeling of constant potential danger from any direction is clearly something he’s used to from overseas. But he’s not broken yet. After getting some beers into him he sheepishly confesses “I want to make a difference,” getting a big laugh out of his uncle/mentor Jeff (Woody Harrelson, MONEY TRAIN)

Uncle Jeff, coincidentally, is investigating the bank robbery. We can also count him as a good guy, even though Harrelson delights in the bad lieutenantishness of the character, mumbling and spreading cynicism and smoking crack with a hooker and etc.

Belmont and his boys seem like the next generation that could’ve been mentored by Alonzo in TRAINING DAY. They have one of those little neighborhood bars where mainly police hang out, except it’s a nasty strip club and the DJ plays “Pigs” by Cypress Hill and everybody joyfully sings along. (The end credits remix “Pigs” with movie score.) Not invited is their dirtbag-loser-should-never-have-been-allowed-to-be-part-of-this-drug-addict-kicked-off-the-force-ruining-it-for-everybody wet sack of a friend Gabe, played so perfectly by Aaron Paul (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) that the first frame you see him you just go “oh jesus, cut this idiot loose he will for sure be the death of all of you, and this is very, very obvious you guys I shouldn’t be having to tell you this you are professionals here aren’t you?” Then he opens his mouth and you know you were right.

Also you got Norman Reedus (BLADE II, AMERICAN GANGSTER) and Clifton Collins Jr. (FORTRESS, ONE TOUGH BASTARD), who are as enjoyable as usual, but the most scorching performance is Chiwetel REDBELT Ejiofor as the ringleader, Michael. He’s more muscular and intense than even when he played a martial arts master, and he’s pretty scary, but he’s given sympathetic motivations. Some time after Iraq he got mixed up with this Russian gang, and it’s not so easy to get out now because he has a son with the boss’s sister (Gal Gadot, CRIMINAL). The boss is one of these ice still_triple9-1cold mafia queens, kinda like the mom in ONLY GOD FORGIVES, with the big hair and the expensive sunglasses, fancy clothes, chain smoking, never flustered, beefy bodyguards with her at all times, walking around like she OH MY GOD THAT’S KATE WINSLET. I didn’t even recognize her at first. It’s more of a goofy performance than one of her great ones, but it’s enjoyable to see her messing around with a role so against type.

I’ve always found Affleck very likable, and I’ve seen him in gritty roles like OUT OF THE FURNACE where he’s not necessarily the quiet guy living in the shadow of his older brother Batman. But this seems kinda new for him, this pumped up tough guy who walks casually into dangerous situations knowing everyone will underestimate him. He makes an interestingly unexpected action lead, whether pushing through hallways behind a ballistic shield or wading into a crowd of guys who could be extras in a DEATH RACE movie. I do feel there is one scene where his gum chewing is a little too self conscious. But he seemed to get the hang of it as filming went on.

The vibe of this movie is like the shot that was in the trailer, where a huge scary looking shirtless guy with tattoos and a giant bushy beard is hauling ass down a street chased by cops, screaming and firing a machine gun haphazardly over his shoulder. But it’s also the part earlier in that scene, where Chris is watching the guy from across the street as he gets his kid out of the car, and Chris comments that he’s “a real pro” at folding up the stroller to put it in the trunk. He’s a dad, so he appreciates that stuff. That’s almost my favorite part, because who stops a movie for a moment like that? John Hillcoat does.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 at 9:28 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Triple 9”

  1. This one was great. Nobody’s trying to act like these guys have any honor among thieves or any of that bullshit moral code they superimposed on that PARKER movie. They’re just some bad dudes ranging from “pragmatically amoral” to “total sociopath,” and they make no apologies for it. Even the “Give me back my son!” subplot that in any other movie would be code for “See, he’s not such a bad guy” and would be used to inject sympathy and relatable stakes into a third act hostage rescue is dispensed with like an afterthought. In this world, nobody gives a shit about your family problems. Everybody has work to do, and none of it is nice.

    Also, Mouth and I agree that this might have the finest door-kicking scene ever filmed.

    Man, crime thrillers have been killing it the past few years. SICARIO, COLD IN JULY, CRIMINAL, THE TRUST, BLUE RUIN, GREEN ROOM, COP CAR, probably more that I’m forgetting. All hard-boiled, take-no-shit yarns told with elegance and gusto. Many seem to be injecting some horror atmospherics into vicious action sequences to give themselves an eerie feeling of menace. We’re used to horror movies that feel like action movies, but these are action movies that feel like horror movies. I approve.

  2. Mr. M — “This one was great. Nobody’s trying to act like these guys have any honor among thieves or any of that bullshit moral code they superimposed on that PARKER movie.” It’s particularly great, because they even do sort of acknowledge that Mackie, at least has enough of a soul to start to feel guilty he’s about to murder his nice-guy partner. But he still does it! I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that in a movie before. He has the part of the arc where he starts to question his actions, but not quite enough of it to not go through with them. I don’t think it would ever cross it mind to not do it at this point, he just thinks, “man, it’s a real shame I’m going to have to betray and murder this guy, he seems OK!” Something about that feels very beautifully real.

    This one is narratively kinda a mess, and maybe a little less than the sum of its parts, but I loved it. Plus I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in North America to have seen it in a theater, so fuck all ya’ll.

  3. “This one is narratively kind of a mess”

    I’ll admit that I didn’t pay attention to one word Kate Winslet said, and I don’t feel like I missed anything. I feel like the movie agreed with me and wanted to toss off that subplot as efficiently as possible, but then they hired Winslet so they had to give her a monologue or two.

  4. Yeah, this movie was a bit messy, and the ending felt like they ran out of film, but the parts are so good that I really liked it. I actually thought it was a big improvement on Hillcoat’s Lawless, which was my least favorite of his (that I’ve seen). I also had no clue that was Kate Winslet until I read a review after the fact. And, Subtlety, I also saw this in theaters. There were like two other people with me, so at least four of us saw this thing during its theatrical run. You’d think that killer cast would have gotten more people out to the movies.

  5. Majestyk – totally agree about the recent flux of awesome crime thrillers, of which this is one. I’m really looking forward to Hell or High Water next!

  6. I also saw this one in the theater, fellas. Took my ex-girlfriend and two other friends even! The Russian gangster stuff didn’t gel with the feel of the rest of it and Woody Harrelson’s character seemed like he was shredded in the editing room but otherwise I really liked it. The drawn out apartment raid was on par with (if not better than) the tunnel scenes in Sicario. I wish Hillcoat could knock it out of the park because I love his aesthetic. Unfortunately, I’ve had big problems with all of his films (including The Proposition)

  7. This one and Scario disappointed me because they both promise a gun battle and neither of the sort happens. I know that makes me a meathead, I guess, but would it kill these directors to throw in a good action scene. Be more like Michael Mann if you are going to make a Mann like movie.

  8. Vern, here’s the trailer for Seagal’s new film END OF A GUN.

    END OF A GUN Movie TRAILER (Steven Seagal - Action, 2016)

    A former DEA agent strikes a deal with a mysterious and seductive woman to help her steal $2 million from a sadistic drug lord... ★ The Best ACTION Movies ar...

  9. I was hoping you would watch/review this! The bleakness of the ending is consistent with everything that came before, but I dunno…I felt like everything that happens after the final big heist/999 should have been given more air to breathe. And the whole “explosive device we introduce earlier and then re-introduce in a big ‘ah-ha’!” was a little too Porter-cutting-the-gas-and-lighting a cigarette to comfortably fit in with the mostly realistic tone of the rest of the movie. It was a nice surprise, though, that final moment – Woody as an almost angelic figure in all this mess, living up to his promises from earlier in the movie. Overall, I’m happy that the tradition of Michael Mann’s action style continues to live on in these ambitious, dark, ensemble crime-in-the-city pictures. Why haven’t you gotten around to reviewing “Heat”, Vern? I know everyone and their grandpa has seen the movie 50 times on cable, but since it’s my favorite movie I’ve always been curious about how hard it hit you, and where you rank it in the pantheon of badass cinema.

  10. Believe it or not I haven’t seen HEAT since the 1990s. I am definitely excited to watch it again, but I’m also intending to do the rest of the Mann movies chronologically. (I think I’m only on THE KEEP right now.)

  11. In addition to having a world class door-kicking scene, TRIPLE 9 also has for my money the single greatest injury-sustained-from-sliding-under-a-wire-fence moment in all of cinema.

  12. I’m abstaining from watching HEAT until Fox puts out the new Blu-ray special edition they promised last year, after acquiring the Regency catalog. Work just began on a new 4K scan, with Mann and Dante Spinotti overseeing it.

    Vern, I’m curious, would you watch L.A. TAKEDOWN as part of the chronological order or maybe after watching HEAT as an addendum?

  13. Since the subject came up organically, I gotta throw in my encouragement that you continue your Michael Mann revisiting.

    And if The Jericho Mile counts, LA Takedown has gotta count too. Either as its own review or as part of the Heat review.

  14. I was always intending to get to that chronologically, but we’ll see.

  15. THE KEEP!

    what a great weird movie

  16. Hey, that Seagal trailer looks noticeably more professional than usual, and it looks like it might even be a rare case where he’s actually the main character in his own movie. Can’t even fake a decent action beat, though.

  17. Proudly paid for & watched this twice in the theatre. Hillcoat’s features still ain’t brought the 100% yet, but he’s striving for it and 70-80% excellence is worth some tickets.

    Motherfuckers lament the state of mainstream cinema these days, saying everything’s either a $200mil tentpole or a micro-Blumhouse and almost nothing in between, but hey this right here is a modest mid-budget high-cast hard-R crime-thriller helmed by a competent, interesting international auteur (with peak Atticus Ross!) servicing badassophile adults and where the fuck was everybody (above company excluded)?

    Where was the box office profit this deserved? I don’t understand humanity. Y’all would say no to the girl begging to go back to your place because hey you can just take care of business on PornHub tomorrow.

    And no, I’m not letting the marketing people off the hook, as much as I adore the folks who funded & produced this bloody thing. These shitfucks would let a rare collection of Titians rot in an Atlanta warehouse rather than restore the weathered edges & display them at a proper venue.

    A glorious cast, a gloriously inglorious milieu wasted. Bad release date, bad pub, bad rollout/unrollout. I had to work fucking hard to adore the experience of 999 at the moviehouse.

    Same shit happened to, like, SHOOT EM UP and DEATH SENTENCE, movies that people years later claim to respect to the hilt. BABE PIG IN THE CITY sorta fits this unfair category of too-dark underperformers. 13 HOURS: HILLARY DID BENGHAZI is another example of a 2016 release whose ownage maybe deserved a wider audience despite odious approaches to hotly #political #themes.

    999, Mann-lite comparisons be damned (and they’re half-accurateish, nothing wrong with that), has some stunningly grimy stuff you have not seen or heard before; it’s as beautiful as it is revolting. There’s more than a few unique, graphic head injuries/fatalities/p-o-v shots.

    Kate Winslet holds up a baggie full of severed fingers and taunts their [previous] owners.

    If you go to the movies to see such things, rather than bloodless weightless CG alien creatures about to end the world (afuckinggain) before bloodless weightless men in tights show up to stop their cartoon counterparts, Mouth sez chekitout.

  18. Or was it a baggie full of teeth? Ah well, whatever, la kosher nostra mangled someone’s body parts. Mason Verger’s legacy lives.

  19. My excuse for not seeing it in the theater is that I barely make it out to the movies because of time and money. There is a theater chain (a bunch really) that do Tuesday 5 dollar movies. My wife and I will try to go that day and often we’ll go with a friend. What I want to see doesn’t necessarily mesh with the type of movie they want to see. Therefore we compromise and see something we all want to see. I was the only one that was interested in Triple 9 but it was gone before it left the theaters.

    I’m glad I finally saw it on video because I was really disappointed. I actually stopped paying attention 3/4 of the way into the movie because I just found it such a slog to sit through. Like I said earlier I had the same experience with Sicario. I know it’s easy to make fun of the people who sue filmmakers because they go something different then they were expecting. Well the trailer for Triple 9 and Sicario promised a completely different movie experience than the one these movies are. These are slow burn character pieces that they should market them as. I was really expecting a pretty sweet police procedural cops and robbers movie with one or two heists/gun battles. While I thought the last heist was neat in a completely gory way, it wasn’t really all that much tension involved.

    It’s interesting you bring up Shoot ‘Em Up and that actually gave me what I was looking for but I felt most of the gun battles were unimaginative. I was so disappointed that one of the action scenes is just people running into guns set up to shoot when you trip a cord. That’s boring as fuck man.

  20. Mouth, that was an epic speech. Truly.

  21. While I’m 100% against the pretty snobby notion that special effect filled movies (with or without superheroes) are somewhat inferior products by design, I do agree that most people, who complain about the current state of cinema, are simply too lazy to look outside the box. It’s not the movie industry’s fault, if you get your information about new and coming motion pictures only from the lobby of your multiplex of choice. There is something for every taste.

  22. CJ – It’s true that sometimes people complain too much about superhero movies, but the entire economy of cinema has changed. Plenty of people missed Triple 9 not because they didn’t want to see it, but because they couldn’t get out to the theaters in time to see it. Hell, I missed The BFG in theaters because I just didn’t have the time when it came out.

    There’s been a lot written about how medium priced movies have been crowded out of the cinemas. I think we’ve been lucky this year. Green Room, Cloverfield Lane, Midnight Special, The Nice Guys, and Hell and High Water were great movies, but only about half of them did well in theaters. These medium sized genre films are usually the ones that I look forward to the most, so I’d be happy if we got more of them.

  23. It might also be the culture change of the younger generation not being interested in these movies and they’re the ones who are going to the movies the most.

  24. You’re right that many of these genre films don’t have an obvious demographic. With so much media vying for people’s eyeballs, big CGI spectacles are one of the few kinds of films that can grab the attention of young folk. Like Clint Eastwood in just about every one of his movies, those of us on this website are a dying breed. When I watched Hell or High Water over the weekend, the audience was mostly made up of older people, and I’m sure it was less the kind of film and more the strong reviews that brought them out.

    In an interview Spielberg floated the idea that in the future, different kinds of movies will have different price points. So if you’re going to see the latest Star Wars, you’ll pay more than if you’re going to see the latest John Hillcoat joint. I thought this was an interesting solution. It’s a more honest way of pricing films than to just flood the theater with 3D showings, which is what the movie theaters near me seem to do.

  25. I know you guys are raving about this one and all and it does look and sound good, but how can you make Triple 9 BEFORE having other movies that establish the characters? I mean YOU JUST CAN’T DO THAT!

    RBatty: The theaters around me have started to put the 3D showings at convenient times (for me at least) and giving the 2D ones less showings at horribly inconvenient times (and when the tickets are higher priced). I’m not anti-3D but since ‘real’ 3D movies are becoming rare, I’ve been skipping them more and more now (though this year had three movies that had great 3D: THE MERMAID, JUNGLE BOOK, and now KUBO).

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