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Triple 9 is the radio code for “officer down”, as US cop show fans will probably know. This John Hillcoat film hinges on such a 999 alarm, but more interestingly, an irony plays a big role. And you can’t say that for many action thrillers.
The nature of the irony will be left wreathed in mystery, by this review, anyway. But it happens towards the end, and gives the film its flavour.
It’s an invigorating production, rootin’ and tootin’, bang bang, bang bang bang, booom. But it does have quirks and surprises, along with the cliches of a tattered dirty cop, a suave dirty cop, an ex-Marine turned to crime fighting, and nasty foreign hoods.
The story begins with a bank heist, and there are a lot of familiar scenes of baddies in silly face masks terrifying honest citizens – shades of The Town and Point Break. At this point I wondered in what era it was actually set, especially as some characters were using massive mobile phone things. But as part of the narrative is about a soldier returned from Iraq or maybe Afghanistan, it’s presumably contemporary. The gangsters turn out, shock, to be lawmen in their day jobs, and the story unfolds around an operation they are forced to do by evil mafiosi.
This shower is the Russian mafia in the US, namely Atlanta. One of the mobski’s operations is a Russian Jewish meat-packing plant – not the sort of thing you want to greet you when the trunk of the car into which you were bundled, bound and gagged, is thrown open. But bad luck for the two unnamed characters whose fate this is: it’s that sort of film.
Central characters in an ensemble story are Mike (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Chris (Casey Affleck), who plays the good guy, also the potential fall guy. There’s a cohort of bent cops, and Woody Harrelson in a rumpled suit, as a corrupt FBI agent. With all that badness the Russian Mafia should have felt right at home – this wasn’t the enemy, it was just like downtown Moscow. At least the Russkies were well turned out, especially boss mama Irina (Kate Winslet, not her finest hour) who favours sexy red boots. Aaron Paul, best known as Jesse in Breaking Bad, is wasted, in more ways than one, in a key part that is underwritten. Casey Affleck again proves he is the one with the acting talent in that family, and Cliifton Collins Jr. turns in a good performance as the bent-est of the cops, proving the old adage that your should never trust a man with a teeny pony tail.
Director John Hillcoat has form for uncompromising movies: he was behind The Road (2009), from Cormac McCarthy’s depressing novel, and The Proposition (2005), a brilliant outback “western” set in Hillcoat’s native Australia. Find it if you’ve never come across it. From a script written by rock’s dark angel, Nick Cave, it is as spare and profound as the scorching scenery in which it is set.
Triple 9 is not in the same class as either, tailored more for the mass market heist-movie crowd.
The best scene comes early on when a getaway vehicle loses control on the motorway because a red smoke bomb explodes inside. No, it’s not comic, and absolutely riveting. Afterwards, there’s a lot of stuff thrown in for effect, one suspects – a transsexual informer with a fluffy dog dyed pink, security guards having their limbs blown off – and an additional downside is that Harrelson does have an air of phoning it in.
But by the end it added up to a diverting experience, if leaving the viewer confronting these questions:
- Would you really shoot someone who’d told you they had the money before ascertaining that this was actually the case?
- What on earth did the people credited as dialect coaches for Harrelson and Affleck actually do? Harrelson always sounds the same, and the suspicion is that he cannot do any accent except for the one we’ve heard in True Detective, No Country for Old Men, etc etc. Affleck sounds like an American, duh.
- Did TourGeorgia really think that this might lure tourists to Atlanta when it invested?
See or not see? See, unless your ideal movie is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Triple 9 is released on February 19, 2016. Check out the trailer below.
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