When young Detective Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) is moved into a tough squad of the Atlanta Police Department he is unaware that his new partner, Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), is corrupt and working with a group of criminals including Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul), Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Russell Welch (Norman Reedus) and another corrupt officer, Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jnr.).
With the group running a series of robberies for Russian Mafia boss Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) they find themselves stretched to the limit and it is decided that the only way to pull off the hardest of the robberies is to have Triple 9 (Police officer down) call put across the airwaves. Their chosen target is Chris because they know his uncle, respected Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) will pull every officer onto the case.
Yes it might be a year when we are getting films like Batman vs Superman and of course another Captain America film but one of the films I was most excited to see this year was Triple 9. Triple 9 looked like it would be interesting watch, not only did it have a stellar cast involved including two of my favourites Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet (who never normally chooses a bad script) but was also directed by John Hillcoat whose filmography contains films like The Proposition, The Road and Lawless all films that have revealed that he is gritty director certainly worth watching the work of. Throw in a healthy dose of Police corruption and this was well and truly on the road to becoming one of my fave films of the year. That was until I sat down and watched it.
To be honest Triple 9 isn’t a bad film, in fact many elements of the film do in fact work. Hillcoat is at his normal gritty best with some realistic action sequences in which a normal cops and robbers chase across Atlanta becomes something of violent beauty, while some of the urban shoot-outs will have the audience on the edge of their seat. The problem with Triple 9 though is that it tries to do too much and is sadly let down by a script that needed just a few more re-writes.
It’s not surprising to learn that Triple 9’s screenwriter Matt Cook is a first time feature writer. The idea behind Triple 9 is sound but still the screenplay itself has some very big holes. First of all there is way too much happening and too many of the characters are too similar, so similar in fact that some of the critics at the Melbourne media screening were turning to each other and asking ‘who the hell was?’ after the screening… never a good sign.
As a screenwriter Cook seems to created quite a good world with a massive amount of back story that just doesn’t come through during the film. Just how did Michael start having a relationship with Elena, what ended etc are just never fully explained. Then there are huge plotholes like if all the team need is for a Triple 9 call to go over the airwaves do they really need to shoot a cop or can they just ‘pretend’ a cop has been shot? A seasoned screenwriter would have known to have ironed out things like that during the writing process but sadly that is something that Cook has overlooked. Hillcoat does all he can to make the screenplay watchable but just falls short of making this a decent film.
Likewise the weak screenplay also leaves some of the cast floundering as well. Luckily Casey Affleck and Kate Winslet are there to save things. Affleck does a more than admirable job playing the fresh faced Chris, but it is Winslet that really excels herself. Casting Winslet as a Russian Mafia boss was a risky pick. A pick so risky that if she had failed she could have been looking at finding herself in Golden Razzie territory, luckily though she is up to the task and Winslet delivers another fine performance… this time showing that she can pretty much handle anything that is thrown at her.
Also up to the task is Harrelson who seems to borrow a little bit from his role that he had in Rampart. Those suffering though are the likes of Antony Mackie, Aaron Paul and Chiwetel Ejiofor who in roles where they are severely hampered by the fact that their characters are dangerously clichéd. Then there are poor Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer and Michelle Ang whose characters just seem to go missing for huge chunks of the film.
There is no doubt that with a little bit more work on the screenplay Triple 9 could have been a brilliant film. The poor screenplay unfortunately though leaves the audience asking too many questions and dumps this film right in the middle of a heap of other average films. While it may appeal to fans of The Shield don’t expect the writing of Triple 9 to ever lift it to anything near as brilliant.
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiorfor
Running Time: 115 mins
Release Date: 19th February 2016