TRIPLE 9 Values Tension Over a Fluid and Coherent Story – Movie Review
Valuing tension over a fluid and coherent storyline, John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 offers a grimy look at criminals and cops that will leave you feeling dirty, and wondering what the point of it all was.
Greed is an ugly thing. Beyond the religious implications of it, greed-more importantly, money-can make people do terrible, terrible things. Not everyone sees their actions as terrible though, finding a way to rationalize what they are doing because the ends justify the means. What kind of people do these types of things? Only the lower class or only the upper class? Only bad people or only good people? Or is the true answer a combination of all of the above? Triple 9 explores how the best, and worst, of us can have our morality questioned, and just how deep down the rabbit hole you can fall if you aren’t careful.
The immediate gut reaction to Triple 9 is its stark similarities to 1988s Colors, 2000s Traffic, and 2001s Training Day; all dramas involving police officers dealing with gangs and drug related crimes. An issue that many cop films can run into is that many of them are similarly themed and the stories tend to bleed into one another; forming an often generic feel. For any film to shake this stigma it is imperative that the story be unique enough to differentiate itself from its predecessors and introduce characters we can adhere to throughout their journey. The events these characters go through must be compelling and follow a path, that while able to diverge will solve the central conflict and display the appropriate growth and/or change the characters bear witness to during this time. Not every character needs to go through a specific journey, but this type of arc is central to virtually all films with a linear pattern of storytelling and is necessary in showing their progression or regression.
While Triple 9 follows a straight path, it is not altogether clear what story it has to tell or why audiences should be invested. Playing as an ensemble piece, Triple 9 does not focus on any one character for any great length of time before jumping to the next; each story weaves with the one preceding or proceeding it, but rarely has an immediate effect on the other until the climax. This lack of cohesion stunts the flow of the film as it rarely feels like one movie, but like multiple shorts that are solely related by tone. There is a feeling that in time all will make sense when clarity is found, but by the time it is you may have found yourself to have drifted too far away from the characters and theme.
Although what plays as its major detriment at times is also what works so well for Triple 9 in that it gives viewers just enough while leaving them wanting more, particularly from its characters. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus, and Aaron Paul are all very good actors who do very good work in the film, but all too often we have no reason to care for any of them and their scenes carry little weight outside of the implications it has on the still muddled story. Ejiofor and Affleck play the roles of leads, but their focus is so singular that neither character is compelling enough to pull for or against, even though the writers and actors would like for you to feel that way. Mackie pulls one of his best dramatic performances I have seen which bodes well for his future. Winslet delivers like she always does, albeit in a Russian accent that I am not knowledgeable enough on to tell if it is well done or not. Paul is good, but it feels like he is playing his character Jesse Pinkman from the hit television show Breaking Bad. Much the same can be said for Harrelson, who does very well, but the similarities to his character Martin Hart on True Detective are difficult to ignore. The issue is not with the performances of the actors, but far too many characters simply are who they are, but they are not interesting enough to hold interest without the proper clarification of their identities that we never get.
Director John Hillcoat helms the often grinding thriller to its grimy limits with occasionally graphic violence and language, and from a technical view it is well executed, but it once more suffers from the general malaise the film wades in. The action sequences are tense and well filmed, and the actors perform admirably in them, but once more there is little reason to be invested in what’s on screen. It is difficult to assign blame to a director for a film not flowing smoothly as they often do not have final say on the theatrical cut of a film, so I will reserve judgement for a hopefully extended cut that fixes the cracks in Triple 9’s foundation.
Films like Triple 9 are quite the quandary, as they are neither good nor bad, but lie somewhere in between. There are clear influences from pre-established films in the police/heist genre that have worked in the past, but they are too hastily thrown together to the point that they not only do not work in this generation, but they feel rather dated and at times boring. If you are a fan of the cop/crime films, you will likely enjoy Triple 9 for its dark, invasive feel and subject matter. However, without any predisposition to the genre you are likely to get lost in the shuffle while trying to figure out what’s going on, or if you should even care.
Triple 9 is directed by John Hillcoat and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Clifton Collins, Jr., Norman Reedus, and Gal Gadot.