It’s a fine line between right and wrong and one that all the players in Triple 9 seem to be walking in a tense heist thriller. As the film opens, we see a gang of criminals enter a bank and strategically make their getaway with a safe deposit box that will seemingly set them up for a windfall. But it’s not that simple. This gang includes a pair of cops who’ve crossed the line along with a leader essentially having his strings pulled by a female mob boss using his son as leverage.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is Michael Atwood, the former special ops leader of this crew who finds himself at the will of Irina Vlaslov, a ruthless mob boss played by a nearly unrecognizable Kate Winslet determined to set her jailed husband free from a Russian prison by employing Atwood’s crew to do her bidding. Irina’s sister Elena (Gal Godot) had a prior tryst with Michael and aunt Elena is using the youth’s freedom to hold over Atwood’s head.
The rest of Atwood’s crew includes his right hand man Russell Welch (Norman Reedus), Russell’s former cop and recovering addict brother Gabe (Aaron Paul), a dirty cop named Franco (Clifton Collins Jr.) and a bit of an unknown in officer Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) who has been pressed into action for the heist. Thinking they’ve done their job and are about to get paid, sadly Atwood learns that Irina is leveraging him for a bigger job to complete the task and to drive the point home, she whisks away Atwood’s son and has a member of the crew snuffed out.
Unsure of how to pull off a heist of a homeland security office, Marcus suggests a 999, which is code for killing a police officer. Knowing that all resources will be devoted to finding the officer’s killer, that leaves the target of their theft less guarded than normal. He suggests his new partner, officer Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), as the target.
Allen is bright but rough and after initially butting heads with Marcus on the job, he manages to save Marcus’ life during a home invasion. Meanwhile, Allen’s uncle Jeffery (Woody Harrelson), a veteran cop with a beat on the heist, begins to close in on the crew. As the second heist nears, allegiances begin to get tested, the stakes are raised and the twists and turns begin to unfold with a lot of bloodshed to follow. How it all plays out is all part of the intrigue of the John Hillcoat-directed film.
Though the acting performances are solid, with Mackie, Ejiofor and Paul all doing stellar work with their internal conflicts, the story does lag at times. It has a strong opening action scene, though it does take a bit to sort through who is who and what the relationships are. But it falters a bit in the middle of the film setting the stage for the explosive final act, as it feels that plot points don’t fully deliver the impact en route to their pay off. However, once the final act begins, there are plenty of twists to keep you guessing how it’s going to play out.
In all, Triple 9 is a solid heist movie with a bit of the feel of the ’90s DeNiro/Pacino film Heat. But while the acting is solid, this film isn’t quite on the level of that classic. Rather, it’s a totally watchable thriller that will keep you on your toes.
Posted by: Ari Coine