Triple 9

A crew of bank robbers is strong-armed by the Russian mob to pull off a near impossible heist due the response time of the police. In order to create a larger window, the dirty cops of this crew suggest creating a 999 (police code for “officer down.”) on the other side of town. That is the basic plot of Triple 9. Yet, the tagline for this film is, “The Code on the street is never black and white.” Seems like a different movie which is part of the letdown of Triple 9. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a heist movie like Heat or The Town? Or is it trying to be a movie about the cops and the rules of the streets like Training Day?

In the beginning, the film sets its self-up to be a smart and stylistic heist film. However shortly after it begins to feel disjointed as it attempts to develop everyone in its ensemble cast to the point where it hurts the story and some excellent performances become forgettable. It’s a shame because somewhere in this film is potentially two excellent separate films. One film about a crew having to complete a heist for the mob to save their lives and loved ones, and another about dirty cops, their partners and the moral ambiguity of the code on the streets. In Triple 9, these two premises never really get developed on one side or the other and thus everything is just left there.

On the heist side, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays ex-mercenary Michael Atwood. Michael is the careful and calculating leader of the crew, but is tied to the Russian mafia through the mother of his son. Michael is constantly being coerced by the Russian Mob Boss, played by Kate Winslet. The two give stellar performances, most notably Winslet who is cold and ruthless in wielding her power, speaking her mind and not caring how the job gets done as long as it gets done.

On the cop side, Anthony Mackie plays dirty police detective Marcus Belmont who becomes partnered with the ex-marine turned rookie detective Chris Allen (Casey Affleck). Belmont feels that the rookie doesn’t respect the streets and his “Do-gooder” “make a difference” attitude is going to get him killed. When Belmont’s heist crewmate Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) learns Chris is also the nephew of the Sergeant Detective (Woody Harrelson) investigating the heist crew, Chris becomes the clear candidate to be set up for the Triple 9. (Convenient huh)

Ultimately, as the story plays out it feels we are always arriving at the end of the meeting to plan the coming events. From the planning of the heist, to the set up murder, and to the exit plan, we are just carried through the motions without much motivation of how or why things have to play out the way they do. As a result, I didn’t really care for any of the characters good or bad, unlike other films of this nature. Even Ejiofor’s character Michael, who has his child involved, doesn’t get the opportunity to really show why the rest of the crew respects him and follows him, or why he needs to stay alive for his son, who basically seems better off being taken care of by the Russian mob.

In the end Triple 9 is not a bad movie, it just isn’t really a great one either. It has strong performances by the entire cast and has the makings of something great, but fails to deliver on that opportunity with a disjointed story trying to focus on too many characters. This makes it ultimately forgettable compared to other heist films of similar nature.

3 out of 5 stars

Second Review by Sasha Glenn

Corrupt cops, the mafia, a nearly impossible heist – sounds like this film will either be unoriginal, or maybe – just maybe, it will be completely badass.
Well, fortunately it’s the latter. A gritty and original crime thriller, there hasn’t been a heist film of this quality in quite some time. “Triple 9” is unpredictable, bloody, and very creative.

It’s no surprise that Woody Harrelson, who plays Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen, does a great job in his role as a somewhat greasy but good hearted cop who has seen some things. But, it may come as a surprise to see Kate Winslet star as a high up Judeo-Russian mafia wife in her role as Irina Vlaslov. She’s a woman weathered by a corrupt life and she relentlessly carries out the wishes of her imprisoned husband.

In one of the first scenes, Vlaslov‘s henchmen bring her a terrified and bloody young couple in the back of a trunk. They show her a plastic back with what appears to be all of the couples’ teeth, and she simply nods with approval as the trunk is slammed closed. That’s a tiny taste of what this film delivers.

The cast is just endlessly great actually. The characters are realistic and full of depth, rather than being one-dimensional “good” or “bad” people. Just to name a couple, it includes “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul as Gabe Welch and “Walking Dead’s” Norman Reedus as his brother Russel Welch. It’s hard to decide whether to love or hate their characters, you’ll see why. Also, Casey Affleck plays young cop Chris Allen. He’s perhaps the only “good guy” in the film, but you will have to decide that for yourself as well.

What makes “Triple 9” truly excellent is that it doesn’t rely on the heist scenes alone. Instead, the plot is intricate and full of craziness.
I give “Triple 9” 5 out of 5 stars.