MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Triple 9’ is dirty, mean and really, really good

triple 9

Film: Triple 9
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet

“You gotta out-monster the monster,” Woody Harrelson’s joint-smoking detective, Jeffrey Allen, says before chugging another drink. Boilerplate truths like this one are littered throughout director John Hillcoat’s Triple 9, a cinematic piece of slam poetry dealing in dirges of nasty crime rather than pure verisimilitude. That isn’t to say this overstuffed ensemble piece isn’t without its realism—it’s just that all of the intertwining stories of brotherhood and martyrdom scream out like a modern-day street poet. Like a bunch of poems strung together by loose diction, Triple 9 is a bunch of great things thrown together with the hope of landing. With the unrelenting nihilism looming overhead, though, those “great things” ring through your skull like a bullet to the head. It’s like 2004’s Crash, if Crash didn’t suck.

So much happens over the two-hour runtime that I’m still trying to grapple onto tidbits here, but this is the gist of the film: a gang of criminals and some corrupt cops in Atlanta, Georgia collide during a series of events that I won’t spoil. After a great heist, the individual stories start to splinter off into different directions before doubling back on a collision course with each other.

Talking about Triple 9 is like tiptoeing around eggshells, if those eggshells were spoilers. Just know that the dialogue may be tired and perfunctory, but the insanely stacked cast sell every syllable. Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, and Clifton Collins Jr. all deliver stellar performances in a movie that doesn’t really call for anything more than line recitation. These performances command every scene they’re in and are the key to slipping into this greasy, dirty, and almost apocalyptic realm that Hillcoat has created.

The standouts here are Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck, and Woody Harrelson. Winslet works against the grain here to play Irina Vaslov, the head of a Russian/Jewish crime organization. Winslet fills every room with dread as Irina and gives the story a baseline for how nasty people can be when they don’t get what they want. Affleck is great, per usual, as a new cop to the Atlanta police force. The man is intricate with everything he does and it’s no different here with a Southern drawl and obliviousness to human nature. Harrelson is the funniest one of them all, though. The drunk, drug-doing cop trope can be overdone but Harrelson laces it with such earnest that you kind of feel for the guy as he self-destructs.

Some more about John Hillcoat, though: Having not been a fan of his last film, Lawless, it was weird to see him take such a non-pedestrian stance to telling the story. It’s almost as if he filled the narrative with extra fat just to add to the feeling of everything. “Once more, with feeling” seems to be the narrative throughline here. Just when you think there have been enough headshots or scenes in dingy bars, one of the many anti-heroes stumbles into another violent situation.

Triple 9 is almost all excess, and whether you are okay with that is totally up to you. To me, it’s all perfectly executed excess, almost like a tribute to B-movies like Death Wish. Revenge may be taken, but someone’s hands stay bloody.

GRADE: B+

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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