Breaking Bad’s very own Aaron Paul and The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus appear as the volatile Welch brothers, alongside Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr, and Chiwetel Ejoifor who make up a gang of corrupt officers that take on a heist for the Russian mob, headed by Kate Winslett, whose minimal screentime still provides a memorable performance. Casey Affleck plays Chris Allen, a cop who initially seems out of his depth when partnered with one of the aforementioned gang, and Woody Harrelson is excellent as Allen’s uncle, a drug-addled detective who is not above taking the law into his own hands.
Triple 9 refers to the call-code used by the police to radio in the death of a fellow officer, and it is this action that is planned as a decoy for an incredibly risky heist that makes up one of the key set-pieces later on in the story. The opening sequence places the viewer straight into the heart of another explosive heist, and whilst this has been seen many times before, it is handled with enough panache to convince you that this is bold, new territory.
With Triple 9 it is clear that John Hillcoat has honed his skill as a director; his action sequences have always been unforgettable but they now pack an even more brutal punch, accentuating the callous – and downright nefarious – nature of his protagonists, whilst leaving audience members reeling with the impact. An intense chase scene midway through the film demonstrates this, and takes the viewer on a heart-stopping mission that has disastrous implications for those caught in the crossfire. As the body count begins to pile up, an intricate web of lies and deceit begins to fall apart for all involved.
For a film packed full of talented actors it is inevitable that some players are under-used, and whilst writer Matt Cook delivers enough exposition for us to understand the main protagonist’s motivations, some of the characters are given short-thrift as he juggles between storylines. Affleck brings gravitas to the most involving story arc, and Aaron Paul proves once again that he can tackle challenging roles with an honesty and rawness rarely seen, but it is a shame that Harrelson’s best performance in years has to sit by the sidelines for the most part.
Those familiar with Hillcoat’s excellent filmography will find a lot to admire here; his propensity for subtle black humour and his usual bleak outlook provide the perfect palette for a grim tale of betrayal, and his ability to coax powerful performances from his actors heightens the realism of the screenplay, bringing an emotional depth that audiences should easily connect with. If you enjoyed the intensity of Sicario then Triple 9 should definitely resonate with you.
It may not be as slick as Villeneuve’s finely tuned procedural thriller but the dirt and grime of Hillcoat’s world works as the perfect counterpoint in the exploration of corruption.
Review by Tom Bielby