Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat, the director of The Road and Lawless, has assembled a killer cast of movie stars and character actors to tackle a hard boiled crime drama set in Atlanta. Triple 9, taking its title from the code for "officer down", is a sprawlingly ambitious yet mostly procedural film often weighed down by the sheer amount of characters it encompasses. From a script by newcomer Matt Cook, the film is both somehow overstuffed many of the pulpy genre elements audiences are familiar with and thin on source material.
Triple 9 is a rather breathless film set around duel heists bookending the film with dramatic precision and depth reminiscent of Michael Mann mixed with the gritty street level style of David Ayer. Casey Affleck thanklessly anchors the film as a good Atlanta cop struggling to do his best partnered with a very bad cop in the charismatic Anthony Mackie. Mackie spends most of his time accompanied by unsavoury criminals like the former special forces team leader played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, another dirty detective in Clifton Collins, Jr., along with criminal brothers Norman Reeds and Aaron Paul (whose character is an ex-cop).
Somehow, the A-list cast continues and becomes a burden with the likes of Woody Harrelson, who shows up to play a wildcard detective sergeant (and Affleck's uncle), while Kate Winslet goes next level broad as the ruthless Russian mob queen. Gal Gadot adds a sexy element of questionable loyalty as Winslet's sister and Ejiofor's baby mama. We don't know much about any of these characters with varying narrative results. However, Hillcoat and their performances make the world so lived in adding to a sprawling world filled with intriguing people and their shadowy motives.
Triple 9 isn't much more than a cops and robbers movie about difficult men/women and criminals. Hillcoat's band of overly talented actors lifts the gritty but boilerplate heist flick with an off-balance but entertaining mixture of style and substance. The film is so densely packed and often technically dazzling being full of ambition and overly dark themes yet slightly fails to connect its disparate but still worthy elements of bad cops and worse criminals.
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