Blackmailed by Russian mobsters, a gang of crooked cops, led by Terrell Tompkins (Chiwetel Ejiofor), plan the murder of transfer officer Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) in order to buy themselves time to pull off an audacious heist.
2010 was a particularly good year for The Black List, the annual rundown of Hollywood’s hottest unproduced scripts. Edge Of Tomorrow, Argo, Margin Call, Looper, Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Chronicle all got game. On the flipside we also got Gangster Squad and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Late to the party is Triple 9 - 999 is US police code for an officer down - a tough crime thriller that falls between the two quality extremes.
Despite superficial similarities to The Town and Heat, this never hits the heights of either.
First the good stuff. Written by Mark Cook and directed by John Hillcoat, Triple 9 opens with a terrific bank heist, full of telling details and arresting images (a red flare goes off inside a getaway car). There are also interesting textures (Atticus Ross’ synth and sax score), the sort of wince-worthy violence you would expect from the director of The Proposition (a face is literally shot off) and a cast that boasts strength in-depth; the quality line up of Ejiofor, Affleck, Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul all do good work. But in a male dominated world - Gal Gadot as Ejiofor’s ex and Teresa Palmer as Affleck’s wife get short shrift - it is Kate Winslet’s Russian Israeli mob moll who stands out, a big-haired ballbreaker aeons away from The Dressmaker.
But the interesting world of the film doesn’t get the story it deserves. Out of the excellent opening emerges a familiar plot - a band of corrupt cops plan a heist that requires they kill one of their own to misdirect the fuzz - that throws up seen it-done it notions - the reluctant criminal who has to pull off one more heist, the cop who wants to make a difference - with little in the way of fresh character dynamics to elevate it. Worse, it runs out of momentum in its middle section; just at the point it should ratchet up, it burbles almost to a stop. Despite superficial similarities to The Town and Heat, this never hits the heights of either.
There is a lot to like: a great opening, searing action and strong cast (Winslet is a stand out). Yet it has a familiar feel, runs out of steam and ultimately doesn’t match up to the sum of its parts.