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'Triple 9' Film Review: All-star cast lends credence to familiar-feeling crime-thriller

February 26, 2016Ben MK

Michael Mann's Heat may be a tough act to follow, but Triple 9 proves itself to be a worthy contender, with director John Hillcoat's gritty contribution to the heist genre earning itself a special place among the pantheon of crime-thrillers worthy of cult status, thanks in large part to its all-star cast and a deliciously villainous turn from Kate Winslet.

With films like Lawless, The Road and The Proposition under his belt, Hillcoat is a filmmaker best known for period films (whether they be Westerns, Prohibition-era shoot-em-ups or post-apocalyptic dramas). As such, Triple 9 marks the Australian director's first foray into the cinematic modern-day, a movie that tracks the intersecting paths of a collection of cops and criminals, each of whom find themselves linked by one common element: Irina Vaslov (Winslet), a ruthless Russian mob princess out to orchestrate her husband's release from prison.

To do so, she needs someone to pull off a pair of high-risk heists. And for that she turns to her nephew's father, former private security contractor Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But when the first heist goes sour, Michael and his crew — brothers Russell and Gabriel Welch (Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul) and dirty cops Marcus Belmont and Franco Rodriguez (Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins Jr.) — find themselves on the radar of veteran cop Jeff Allen (Woody Harrelson), whose idealistic nephew Chris (Casey Affleck) happens to be Marcus' new partner.

What follows can more or less be deconstructed into a riveting series of shootouts, car chases and double-crosses, as the characters — most of whom have clear motivations — try to "out-monster" each other to come out on top. Substituting Atlanta, Georgia for the often-used crime-drama setting of Los Angeles, California, Triple 9 borrows from films like Training Day, End of Watch and Harsh Times to paint a portrait of a city besieged by gang warfare and corruption, an urban battleground where there are few real good guys, but plenty of varying shades of bad.

Scripted by first-time screenwriter Matt Cook, Triple 9 takes its title from the police code for "officer down." So it should come as no surprise that the take-down of a cop figures heavily into the movie's plot, as a tactic used by Michael and his crew to distract their opponents while they try to complete the job Irina has handed to them. But while the film remains gripping all the way through to its climactic second heist, it unfortunately stumbles in the aftermath, as the narrative struggles to tie up loose ends and serve some of its key players their comeuppance.

Luckily, any deficiencies in the otherwise taut script are more than compensated for by the movie's impressive cadre of on-screen talent, which also includes Gal Gadot (as Irina's sister Elena), Teresa Palmer (as Chris' wife Michelle) and Michael K. Williams (in a bit part like you've never seen him before). Make no mistake, Triple 9 definitely treads on familiar cinematic territory. But thanks to its thoroughly game cast, the result is triple-A entertaining, and so much more than just another entry in the testosterone-fueled, cops-and-robbers genre.

Triple 9 releases February 26th, 2016 from Elevation Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 55 Mins.

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