If Triple 9 feels vaguely familiar, that’s because it resembles countless other similarly mediocre crime films. There is nothing inherently bad about it, but the unoriginality plagues the narrative until each derivative moment begins to feel like a parody of the genre, despite (or perhaps because of) a deadly seriousness with which the material is approached. A good ensemble cast and solid direction from John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless) can’t make up for the derivative screenplay which plateaus in the opening sequences.
In these exciting opening moments, we witness a violent bank robbery by a group of skilled, albeit somewhat careless criminals. Even when the heist does not go exactly as planned, these men are well trained enough to improvise their way to safety. We later discover that the reason behind their expertise is military service and employment in law enforcement. Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) are the inside men working within the Atlanta police department, covering the tracks of the other three men in their crew, including brothers Russell and Gabe Welch (Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul) and their leader, Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor). We later discover that Michael actually answers to Russian mob influence, controlled by Irina Vlasov (Kate Winslet), whose sister (Gal Gadot) is the mother of Michael’s son.
This first robbery brings an inevitable investigation, which cannot be controlled by their inside men when Marcus is paired with an honest new partner, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck). Chris and his wife (Teresa Palmer) are related to washed-up Sergeant Detective Jeffery Allen (Woody Harrelson), who unwittingly puts Chris in danger when he partners him with Marcus. The more that Chris does his job honestly, the more dangerous he becomes to those around him who are corrupt. At the same time, Michael and his crew are pressured by Irina to carry out another heist before the heat from the first has died down.
Triple 9 features an impressive cast of talented actors at peaks in their careers, which may have contributed to its eventual failure as a memorable film. With so many characters, there is less time for any of them individually to stand out. There is also a problem with the convoluted and bleak manner with which they are presented, existing within a seedy world of bad guys, worse guys, good guys who are bad, bad guys who are kinda good, and truly good guys who are mostly just clueless. The narrative can’t seem to decide whether it would rather the audience relates to the bad guys forced into situations beyond their control, or the good guys whose morality puts them in danger. By refusing to make a decision one way or another, the result is a noncommittal mess with too few action scenes to even serve as a distraction from the narrative shortcomings.
With the number of storylines and characters, Triple 9 often feels more like a season of a TV series than a standalone film. It has that kind of meandering pace and structure which has become common on television, feeling overcrowded for a two-hour run-time, while also somehow dragging between scenes of sporadic violence with many somber conversations among characters drowning their sorrows in substance abuse. It all begins to feel a bit cliché, and never nearly enough fun.
The Blu-ray combo pack comes with a Digital HD copy of the film and a few obligatory special features. There are a handful of deleted scenes and two generic featurettes: “Under the Gun” and “An Authentic World.” The first focuses on the cast and the characters that they create, while the latter is about director Hillcoat’s vision for the film. As dark and gritty as the film is, the high definition of the Blu-ray only impacts the presentation during the few crucial action sequences.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 5/10