Whilst all of us here in the UK, and pretty much everywhere else consider the digits 999 to mean urgent help required, those across the pond prefer to use 911 instead, allowing ‘triple 9’ to become a code for: officer down. The circumstance in which this three-digit code is expended is a favourite of many crime thrillers, but never has it been fixated upon as the main feature by which the story is assembled. Triple 9 attempts to do just that, and with an exciting director at the helm, a plot to drool over and a cast to die for, Triple 9 is the gritty crime film we’ve all been waiting for.
Despite a compact scenario, Triple 9 presents itself as a scattered affair that fluctuates from astonishment to pure boredom. With hints of Heat imbued into the opening robbery, Triple 9 thrives off its gritty realism because its world is given a doggedly merciless genesis. Despite this, the middle section cannot escape the jet-lagged atmosphere it generates that does very little to develop the storyline. It needed more effective, credible backstories for the criminals, the corrupt cops and the mafia, but Triple 9 can’t quite understand what’s required. This being said, when Triple 9 begins to sink to a place of no return, it produces an electrifying climax that lives up to its title with style. Only when the 999 incident comes into play do all the scattered parts get set into motion, saving the film from what was one of the flimsiest and most tepid build-up’s to a story with so much latent potential.
Triple 9 satiates precisely because the title incident is given a sensational treatment, building exhilarating momentum right from the get go of their final mission. Other than the actual 999, the film offers very little to chew on while we wait for the moment we’ve all been anticipating. Narratively, the film is flawed because its only priority is its climax, whilst everything else takes a backseat. The middle act is a lethargic and uninspiring struggle for the audience who want intriguing depth to this promising world. The backstories of every character are as hollow as Easter eggs, but what’s worse is that the filmmakers know their creations lack depth, yet instead of alleviating this problem, a handful of characters are tenuously given characteristics that seem forced, lacking any sort of meat on the bones.
Despite such transparent flaws, Triple 9 remains afloat at the end thanks to its swift, gritty and brutal action sequences. It is possibly its best aspect because it satisfies the climax and saves us during the periods where the lack of life takes its toll. This is becoming a habit of John Hillcoat’s, making films that can reach mesmerising levels of awe, yet plunge into unforgiving areas seeping with errors. His passion for the climactic moments is his downfall as he becomes too overly consumed by their grandeur that he fails to notice the more intimate moments.
As a result of Hillcoat’s directorial shortcomings, the stunning cast he’s assembled isn’t vindicated. He misuses the talented ensemble of A-Listers because these undercooked individuals are only working towards serving the film’s climax. Chiwetel Ejiofor is supposed to be leading the crowd in Triple 9, so he gets butch and is provided with a son to emphasise the strings attached to his decisions, but it all seems contrived and engineered to supply complexity. Cops Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson are dependable presences, but the abundance of characters inhibits their influence. Anthony Mackie and Aaron Paul are probably the most intriguing characters, but we see them on a smattering of occasions that escalate and devastate in the blink of an eye. Triple 9’s inability to develop the story through its characters, and enhance the characters using its talented cast is perhaps its greatest ignominy because the characters are either underused or misused. There is a whole other category for the female trio of Kate Winslet, Teresa Palmer and Gal Gadot, who are there to simply fill in the narrative rather than add to it.
A pervading sense of paranoia should have been rife in Triple 9 because the film is essentially a cat and mouse struggle between many different factions. Triple 9 could have unravelled with a similar aura to that of Sicario, with danger around every corner, leaving us atmospherically on the brink, but the film feels too at ease because we know it won’t take sudden tangents as it has kept its best for last. Triple 9 is a film that spares everything for its climax, and although it’s a culmination to behold, the rest of the film is unreservedly dented.
Rivetingly set-up, jet-laggingly developed, yet exceptionally climaxed, Triple 9 delivers on its title incident with glorious flair, but fails to offer anything more.
Images: ‘Triple 9’, Open Road Films
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