Triple 9 is twist-laden tale of corruption, deception and dramatically executed heist sequences, boasting a cast that includes 12 Years a Slave’s Chiwetel Ejiofor (arguably the performer who can hold his head the highest), Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck. Worst of the bunch is a disappointingly single-note Aaron Paul, whose anguished persona seems a pale imitation of his breakthrough role in Breaking Bad. Harrelson is not far behind, turning in the kind of overbaked, unconvincing performance he has done a hundred times before (before True Detective suggested, rightly or wrongly, something of a departure).
Kate Winslet’s inclusion in the film is, at best, a misjudgement. She plays a supposed villain, but there is frustratingly little in the way of characterisation for her. Character interactions routinely fail to ring true, never more so than in Winslet’s scenes. Ejiofor arguably fares best in something of a protagonist’s position, although he simply cannot provide enough charisma to anchor the sprawling mess of a narrative.
The story focuses on a group of bank robbers, two of which are off-duty cops, who are roped into pulling ‘one last job’. Woody Harrelson plays the unlikely father figure to Casey Affleck’s ‘good cop’, as both get drawn in to the spiral of crime and betrayal. The forgettable title refers to the code (a ‘triple-9’) used on police scanners following the shooting of an officer. As the stakes supposedly heighten, the gang turn to murdering police as a smokescreen for their most dangerous heist yet, and so on. Triple 9 stretches and defies believability, a very real problem when the film’s rationale seems intent on grittiness.
It is clear enough the kind of film that John Hillcoat (whose previous directorial efforts include 2012’s Lawless and Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road) was trying to make: a police-orientated crime drama with a distinctly L.A. feel. David Ayer’s underseen End of Watch seems an influence, as does noughties television series The Shield. However, while those works excel in their approach to clear storytelling, the story of Triple 9 is unwieldy and unreal; as a result, the Los Angeles depicted never breathes life.
Which is not to say that the film is without merit. Set pieces are done well, on the whole, with a chase through a housing projects at the centre of the film announcing itself as a particular highlight. There are scenes where it almost seems to click into place. Taken as a whole, however, the film’s many liberties and shortcomings reduce the impact of any sense of the film’s reality. To say it is less than the sum of its parts is an understatement. Triple 9 had no reason to fail as badly as it did. Chalk it up to bad luck and treat yourself to seasons 1-7 of The Shield instead.