John Hillcoat/ Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofer, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet / Thriller / 2016 / 15 / 115mins
Ever wanted that Breaking Bad, Walking Dead and True Detective crossover ? John Hillcoat is your man.
Personally, I am a fan of the American auteur. The Road was a dystopian masterpiece and Lawless showed mainstream success was possible. He has always been a man to walk the road less taken. Art precedes dollar, much to the anguish of studio execs I presume.
Looking back, promotions and trailers seemed to suggest Triple 9 was a first attempt at cracking the blockbuster heist. Indeed it is a thriller, a clever one at that, emerging in medias res to a volatile, gritty underbelly of Atlanta (think an East Coast Tangerine and you’re on the right track).
This I approve – you are constantly asked to think, to question. You piece together the characters, string the plot together and act, in many ways, like an investigator from the start. It aims to involve and succeeds.
Already we have a unique entity. Triple 9 is not the direct-to-brainstem normgasm that the trailers had you thinking. The action is almost secondary, but not in a bad way. There’s symbolism, which is subliminal enough to be absorbed by your eyeballs in any old summer screen schmuck, except here there’s a blatant Spielbergian approach. Like the colour red. It’s fucking everywhere. You could grab a knife and Un Chien Andalou your eyeballs and you’d still see it. Red = danger. Basic stuff, huh? Herein this lone concept lies half the plot.
You soon realise that amongst the swirling pot of storylines, the one about the 999 officer (Casey Affleck) they want for their plan is just as integral to the film as any of the thieves at play. By entering as a plaything, cop Chris Allen inadvertently becomes a pawn for the audience too, a plot device with *gasp* feelings.
Unfortunately, Affleck still sounds like he has something awkwardly rammed up his arse. Change the tone, boy. Even Ejiofer gives it a go – some Americah-gangsta twang – but hey, it builds context. Aaron Paul is merely Breaking Bad’s Jesse in disguise. It’s obvious why he was cast. Yet he does his job: he’s unbalanced, unhinged, the perfect scapegoat. Kate Winslet, however, is electrifying as Irina the Russian gangster matriarch – an award winning performance at least and the best I have ever seen her act.
The way Hillcoat shoots this film is spectacular. Never has Shitsville, Atlanta seemed so exotic and dangerous, a Lacanian reflection of the self – a horrific, beautiful urban mess. It follows Sicario‘s foray into docu-thriller-dramas. Special forces, corrupted and criminalised by the environment they work in, all portrayed from a confusing point of view, but one that is professional and, above all, realistic. The score goes further. It is synthetic, deep waves flow with staccato beats that reflect an urban life – gunshots, fleeting lives, but it all rumbles on.
The conclusion is a la The Departed. By giving a lot away, because I’m an arse, there’s a clusterfuck of deaths. Then we’re left with Woody Harrelson’s perplexed frown says it all. Law enforcement is a farce, a facade for the dark. It’s expected; a cop out if you’ll pardon the pun, but is necessary. If the film had continued to be original it would have become tiring to watch. A coherent ending, a typical one we can follow, allows a more effective conclusion.
One of the few films to actually fail its supposed intended audience ie. action/crime/thriller fanatics. Largely as a blockbuster, one glance at the cast list and it’s easy to see why, but a kooky find that will inspire film geeks. Thrillers can be artistic, relevant and intrepid. Why can’t I take in some action and have a good ponder about it? It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want something different then by all means – this is your film.
Film as a Film – 4 / Target Audience – 2 / General Audience – 3
Find Triple 9 on DVD or On Demand (I used BFI Player)
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By Source, fair use via Wikipedia.
The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Open Road Films, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.