The word "ensemble" is one often tossed around when it comes to big projects with big, star-studded casts. However, never truly has the word fit a film than it does for John Hillcoat's heist-thriller Triple 9 and here's my review of the film.

The film opens up terrifically, with an intense bank heist that is utterly violent and visually arresting, with reds and yellows exploding on to the screen and smoke amd explosions and violence everywhere else. It's thrilling and beautifully directed and sets up the premkse nicely. Basically, Kate Winslet's haunting Russian mafia boss Irina Vlaslov rounds up a group of corrupt cops and criminals, led by the hardened criminal Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and blackmails them into pulling off a near-impossible heist. Belmont's team consists of the Welch brothers, Gabe (Aaron Paul) and Russel (Norman Reedus) - the former of which is an ex-cop, the latter a technical tactician - and corrupt cops Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.), working from the inside. The only way to pull off the heist is for them to try to kill a cop and divert the police - Triple 9 is the code for an officer down. Meanwhile, unsuspecting rookie cop Chris Allen (Casey Allen) is the new kid on the block, wanting to make a difference to his city - overrun by crime and corruption - but, instead, makes the perfect victim for Belmont and his crew to go after and kill.
"Your job? Out-monster the monster then get back home at the end of the night," says Woody Harrelson's Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen to his enthusiastic nephew Chris. To an extent, this line encompasses director John Hillcoat's latest heist-thriller in a nutshell. Triple 9 is all about the battle between good and bad; the straight cop versus the dirty cop; justice against corruption. However, it's a film that also shows there's a very fine balance to life and that, in fact, the line between good and bad, the law and corruption is actually a little blurred and uneven. This is a film that juggles with morals and with right and wrong. If you strip down Mark Cook's screenplay to its bare minimum, this is what it boils down to. However, it's also really just a boil-in-the-bag corrupt-cop, heist flick. We have the good cop wanting to make a difference; we have the corrupt cop on the inside; we have a heist; we have a theme of morals and ideals and the fine line between right and wrong.

This brings me on to one of my biggest flaws of the film. Triple 9 is very generic, a bit too generic to stand out and remain memorable for too long. The movie is riddled with all the tropes and clich├ęs of the heist genre and is very methodical and formulaic in its approach, sticking close to the already tried and tested method. Cook's script doesn't try to bring anything new to the table; it's also a very uneven script and one that can really drag at times. The middle act is very tedious as a result. For a thriller, the screenplay isn't quite as tight and compact as it could be so there's a lot of scenes that you can't help but feel would make the film better as a whole had they been removed as they're just unnecessary and convoluted. Which brings me on to the fact that Triple 9 can be very messy and convoluted at times. With such a large ensemble and a lot of characters and just so much going on, it's hard to follow along with everything and it gets a little too convoluted, especially as we near the finale which, for a film that tries to feel as grounded as possible, feels all a little too contrived.
However, aside from a bit of a formulaic, convoluted narrative, Triple 9 is quite a solid heist film. For starters, Hillcoat has assembled a very stellar ensemble of talented actors and everyone is terrific. Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul are great as the Welch brothers, bringing a genuine and believable brotherly bond to the screen and stealing every scene they're in as quite morally challenged guys. Chiwetel Ejiofor is unrecognisable as Belmont, showing a much darker side to his acting talents as the hardened crook. The same can be said for Anthony Mackie too and both are wonderful. Casey Affeck is also great as probably the only actually good guy here, bringing enough optimism but doubt to the conflicted character. Woody Harrelson is the dark horse, as a character that fights for justice but has a shady personality and it's a much more subdued Harrelson performance. Gal Gadot, however, feels a little underused though. However, it's Kate Winslet that steals the show. Not only does she look haunting but she is a terrifying character too. Winslet is hard, tough and chilling and it's made all the more resonating considering her lighter roles recently, like in The Dressmaker or Steve Jobs.

The acting all across the board is great and these characters are fairly interesting too. With such a busy film though, it's a shame we didn't get to focus more on some characters who perhaps get a little lost behind some of the more major players. Nonetheless, it's an interesting watch with a cast on the top of their game and all shining on-screen. Hillcoat's direction is slick and the action sequences are executed so well too; he manages to create a fairly tense atmosphere when required. Triple 9 is a very well-made and well-acted film. The cinematography is gorgeous and this film looks visually stunning; so stylishly shot, very dark and bleak. The tone of this film is fairly sombre too and it's a violent, gory, relentless picture. Unfortunately, it's a shame that the film isn't quite as great as it could be. It's an engaging watch for what it's worth but it's a pretty by-the-numbers thriller that is all over the place and lacks much structure. It's a competent film and one that is enjoyable but it can be very uninteresting and boring at times and, considering everything this project had going for it, it's a bit disappointing not to say that it was better.

VERDICT:
Triple 9 is a dark, bleak and relentless heist flick with a stellar ensemble, if all perhaps a little too contrived, conventional and convoluted.


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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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