By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
After leaving the screening for this movie and I having a chance to think everything over, I came to the conclusion that writer Matt Cook and director John Hillcoat are big Michael Mann (Heat, Collatteral) fans. Don’t get me wrong. I like his work also (except Blackhat). In fact, given the story elements and the characters, either as a writer or director, I would channel Michael Mann a little as well. The skilled and talented director has a highly recognizable style when it comes to his scenes and characters. The story and characters of Triple 9 are absolutely perfect for the Mann treatment.
Even though they do make some valiant efforts, director John Hillcoat, cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, and their crew don’t quite match the exquisiteness achieved in most Mann movies. It comes pretty close, but does occasionally suffer from the usual sloppiness that often comes from modern action/thrillers. As for the script, Matt Cook has made a story with some riveting moments and some interesting characters, but he does manage to incorporate a few slightly annoying cliches and a conclusion that is a bit messy. The overall result is a good film, but not a particularly great one.
A team of criminals consisting of police officers and career criminals have been unwillingly forced to commit heists for the Russian mob. This band of former military buddies (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, and Clifton Collins, Jr.) have exceptional tactical skills which they put to good use for profit, but are definitely ready to cut their losses and quit the life. The Russian mob, currently headed by the boss’ wife Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), threatens the lives of the team if they refuse to carry out one last job. It is a major job with security risks that will require some “assistance” from the police department. Detective Marcus Atwood (Mackie), a member of the group decides that a 999 police code during the heist will be the team’s best bet for success. A triple 9 distress call means a police officer is down and in need of medical assistance. Atwood thinks his new partner Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) would make a perfect mark for the 999
As one can tell from my rating, I do like the movie and I like it well enough that I would not mind watching the film more than once or twice. Hillcoat and his crew have produced some intense and exciting action and heist sequences. Cook has developed most of his main characters well, but a few do get a bit cheated and don’t have much of an impact in the big scheme of things. The movie does have an exceptional cast with most of the actors delivering great performances.
Ejiofor, Mackie, Paul, Reedus, and Collins, Jr. all perform well as the team. Casey Affleck also delivers great work as good cop, who not only wants to naively do everything by the book, but also does seem to learn quickly and and adapt to his new job. I absolutely enjoyed Woody Harrelson, who stars Sergeant Detective Jeffery Allen, a veteran officer and uncle to rookie detective Chris Allen. Harrelson’s character is a bit off-kilter, somewhat burnt out, but still dedicated to doing his job. His unorthodox methods and behavior definitely makes for some highly amusing entertaining moments. I am rather disappointed with the performance of Kate Winslet, though. It seems like, in the process of not wanting to come across as an over-the-top caricature, her subdued performance is a bit flat in moments. I honestly just did not find her credible or interesting as the main villain of the story.
The story also has a bit of a lengthy and uneven conclusion. Things do wrap up neatly in the end, but the moments getting to the finale do not flow very naturally. This might actually be due to many rewrites and changes that the studio required before releasing this film. Cook, who did a post-movie Q & A at the screening I attended, did discuss his experiences regarding the many changes and versions the movie went through.
Despite the movie’s flaws, I do think Matt Cook is a talented writer and I have now seen enough films of John Hillcoat to acknowledge that he is a skilled director. I am inclined to believe, based on Cook’s description of the script-to-screen process that the studio meddled a bit too much with Cook’s work and may have even interfered with Hillcoat’s direction. Perhaps had Michael Mann directed the film instead, maybe Mann would’ve had the carte blanche to make the movie much better. I am only speculating, of course. Still, for a Michael Mann knock-off action/thriller Triple 9 is actually not bad, it is pretty good.