Published Feb 26, 2016It's unusual for a casting director to deserve more kudos than the film's director, but such is the case with Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat's Triple 9, a convoluted American crime drama that fails to capitalize on the strength of its stars and, despite being part The Wire and part Training Day, never quite manages to capture the same levels of intrigue as the former and suspense of the latter.
The film is filled with a veritable who's who of underappreciated badasses (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr.), award-winning actors (Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor) and small screen stars (The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus, Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul), but rarely lives up to its cast's pedigree, due in part to multiple storylines that continuously confuse and give the overwhelming sense that Hillcoat and first-time full-length screenwriter Matt Cook bit off more than they could chew with this title (especially when one considers the solid strength of Hillcoat's previous, moodier movies, like the Nick Cave-penned cult classic The Proposition and Lawless).
Casey Affleck plays a young cop named Chris Allen who gets reassigned to a tougher precinct in Atlanta, GA. His partner is a streetwise detective named Marcus Belmont (Mackie) who happens to be running a side job with a crew of criminals-for-hire made up of some shady law enforcement officers (Collins Jr., Paul) and former special forces operatives (Ejiofor) who, for a reason that's never fully explained, are performing a series of elaborate and risky heists for a Jewish faction of the Russian mafia (led by Winslet). It's a bit of a mess, and things only get more confusing when Belmont's terrible secrets begin to affect his work life and Allen starts to suspect something is amiss.
Soon, almost everyone involved is in a fight to stay alive, but while Hillcoat does a good job detailing the cops' struggles to work within the system, he doesn't adequately set up the film's ending. When the final shot rings out, the viewer is supposed to feel a sense of redemption that, after a series of meandering storylines, instead rings hollow. The majority of the characters' motivations here, whether its advancing their career or making off with a load of loot, are murky at best, and ultimately lead Triple 9 to miss its mark.