‘Triple 9’: A-list stars go to B-movie extremes in a fabulously trashy cop thriller
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
If you’re in the right frame of mind for a lurid, blood-soaked B-movie with an A-list cast, “Triple 9” is just the ticket.
Just about every scene features an Oscar winner or an Oscar nominee or an Emmy winner and/or a first-rate character actor — and just about every scene is a bloody mix of taut thriller and utterly implausible noir plot point. This is a sordid but slick and gutsy mess that comes across like a cover-band version of a Michael Mann movie.
Take one step back and analyze the proceedings, and “Triple 9” holds up about as well as a house of cards in a hurricane. Press “Pause” on your Credibility Meter and just go with the flow and enjoy the fantastically unsubtle performances and the delicious revenge plot “twists” you can see coming a mile away, and maybe you’ll be entertained as I was, even as you acknowledge this thing is fabulous trash.
We’re told early on “Triple 9” is set in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. (I love it when movies tell us a scene is set in “Paris, France,” or “Jupiter, The Fifth Planet from the Sun,” or “Atlanta, Georgia, United States.”)
As interpreted through the lens of the Australian director John Hillcoat (who helmed the vastly underrated Depression-era crime film “Lawless” in 2012) and the deeply cynical screenplay from Matt Cook, the Atlanta of “Triple 9” is only slightly less chaotic than the Atlanta of “The Walking Dead.”
Most of the law enforcement characters are dirty or strung out on drink and drugs; gangbangers dominate their respective neighborhoods; hookers and junkies stumble about in broad daylight; and oh yeah, the Russian-Jewish mob, which one character actually calls the “Kosher Nostra,” is the most powerful entity in the city, with crooks, local cops and even a number of federal agents in its pocket.
Check out this list of players, and I won’t have room to get to everyone. Anthony Mackie is the corrupt but morally conflicted cop Marcus Belmont, while Clifton Collins Jr. is the corrupt and utterly psychotic cop Jorge Rodriguez. They’re dirty through and through, and they’re part of a crew that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as criminal semi-mastermind Michael Atwood, Norman Reedus as Russell Welch and Aaron Paul as Russell’s brother Gabe Welch.
After an extended (and well-choreographed) bank heist reminiscent of the aforementioned Michael Mann’s “Heat,” the crew actually finds itself in deeper with the Russian-Jewish mob. I’m not going to delve into the reasons WHY they’re now in deeper with the Russian-Jewish mob, because if I try to explain every convoluted plot tributary in this movie, I’ll run out of space and I’ll have to tweet about 150 tweets to lay it all out for you. And none of us wants that.
Guess who’s running that mob? Why, it’s none other than Kate Winslet, sporting a 1990s Sharon Stone hairdo and flexing a pretty great Russian accent as Irina Vlaslov. As we’re told in one of the many expository scenes designed to keep us up to speed with the tangled madness unfurling before us, Putin himself was so afraid of Irina’s husband he threw the guy in the gulag four years ago — so now the ruthless Irina is running the show and is hell-bent on gaining possession of certain files that will guarantee her husband’s freedom. (Because of course no one would think to make COPIES of those certain files.)
But wait, there’s more! Turns out the criminal crew chief, Michael, was once married to Irina’s younger sister Elena (Gal Gadot, soon to be Wonder Woman in a theater near you), and they had a son together, and Irina uses the boy as a pawn to keep Michael in line.
Meanwhile, Casey Affleck’s Chris Allen is the new partner of the corrupt cop Marcus, and Woody Harrelson is Chris’ Uncle Jeffrey, a detective with a serious drinking problem—and did I mention Michael Kenneth Williams, known for playing the baddest of the bad on “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire,” plays a transgender madam known as Sweet Pea?
Nobody in “Triple 9” really sees every piece of the big picture puzzle. Some characters understand about 25 percent of what’s going on; others hover around the 50 percent mark. We’re the ones with the omniscient perspective. This isn’t one of those cop thrillers where we’re kept in the dark until the final act. Even the “surprise” moments aren’t much of a surprise if you’ve been paying attention.
In a real world filled with urban violence and gang warfare and, yes, a small percentage of police officers who are corrupt, “Triple 9” might not feel like escapism for some, and I get that. But this thing is such an R-rated cartoon and so far removed from reality — like a slick but intellectually calorie-free video game — there’s no shame in being entertained by it.
Open Road presents a film directed by John Hillcoat and written by Matt Cook. Running time: 115 minutes. Rated R (for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity). Opens Friday at local theaters.