The intended concept for Triple 9 appears to be if the movie Inside Man and the movie Takers had a fight, mated angrily, then gave birth to a film. That is the only way to describe the cinematic hell audiences have experienced at the hands of Triple 9.
This type of cinematic hell is not watching the same annoying kiddie movie for the twentieth time in a week type of hell. Nor is it the highest level of cinematic hell where films like The Human Centipede and Immortals exist. No, Triple 9 is somewhere in between. According to the laws of Dante’s (Alighieri) Inferno, Triple 9 would be on the Fifth Circle of Hell; which is the anger level where the wrathful fight each other. That happens in Triple 9.
Screenwriter Matt Cook probably had good intentions for the story about a group of men, some cops, some ex-military, who pull off heist jobs for the local Atlanta-based Russian-Jewish Mafia. (Because that’s a thing, right?) Just like most shoot-em-up films, the guys are looking to do one last job, but it will cost them dearly. They’ve just got to kill a cop. It looks like Cook intended for this story to be about redemption, because of what the bad guys end up doing. Alas, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Unfortunately, in the hands of director, John Hillcoat (Lawless, The Road), what is produced is a film that’s hot, slimy, greasy and dirty. From the dirty cops to the slimy villainess to the greasy ex-military guys, this film is a real stinker; which boggles the mind, because the film cast some high profile actors with real talent.
In a 180 degree turn from the good-natured roles he normally plays, Anthony Mackie shows a very dark and violent side as Marcus Belmont, a dirty detective. Then, there’s Chiwetel Ejiofor as ringleader Michael Atwood, a former marine turned security specialist. While Ejiofor clearly hit the gym to be svelte for the role, and he does give a wrenching performance as a father trying to get his son back, it can’t save the film.
Likewise, Kate Winslet adopts a fake Russian accent and an evil persona to play Irina Vlaslov, the ruthless wife for a Jewish-Russian mobster locked up in prison by Putin just for being a scary criminal. Her brand of baddie is a few clicks away from mustache-twirling.
Michael K. Williams is almost unrecognizable as a cross-dressing madam named Sweat Pea. Given his great talent, this role does Williams the most disservice because he is always better served and excels when he’s a commanding presence in a film.
Other interesting characters include Jorge Rodriguez (played by Clifton Collins Jr.), a really crooked detective who hatches the 999 (a police code for a downed officer) plan to kill a good cop so the rest of the group can break into the local Homeland Security building. Aaron Paul greases it up as Gabe Welch, a former dirty cop turned career criminal. And, Norman Reedus brings the grease factor down a few notches as Gabe’s older brother and Michael’s second in command, Russel.
Lastly, Woody Harrelson has fun playing the crack-addicted, yet somehow great at his job Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen. Harrelson provides comic relief in this Hotlanta story about bad people that never arrives at its point. The best line in the movie is uttered by Harrelson’s Jeffrey to a bank manager whose family was threatened during a robbery: “The monster has gone digital. Be careful what you insta-google tweet face.” True words, indeed.
I’m all for supporting films with black actors and crew in prominent roles – in front and behind the camera – but not like this. This film underuses its great talents to make a horrendous, somewhat offensive film. In an attempt to find the point of the story, one can assume it’s that plotting bad things on good people could get you killed. If that is the point, the filmmakers sure did a bad job bringing that one to life. Skip Triple 9 and watch Takers again, instead.