FILM REVIEW – TRIPLE 9. With Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson. Written by Matt Cook. Directed by John Hillcoat. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity. 115 minutes.
TRIPLE 9 is a good, gritty B-movie with a solid A-list cast. If you’re in the mood for a down-and-dirty crime thriller with a plot that ties itself in knots and the one “good” character no more than a supporting player, this one’s for you.
The setting is Atlanta where a crew of former Special Ops soldiers–some now on the police force–have been pulling jobs for the Russian mob. And it’s not simply the Russian mob. It’s a group of Russian Jews headed by Irina Vlasov (Kate Winslet) who just happens to run the local kosher meat plant. However, Jews shouldn’t take offense (as this Jewish reviewer did not) because everyone is crooked or working an angle here: whites, blacks, Hispanics. In classic noir fashion, this is a corrupt world where sooner or later all the transgressors will find the bill comes due.
The plot is convoluted. Irina’s sister has a boy with Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the leader of the crew. In order to maintain access to his son, he allows himself to be bullied into pulling jobs for Irina. To pull off the big one he and his team decide to go for a code 999–police officer down. This will pull all the police to the site of the shooting and away from where the crew is pulling their job. They decide to sacrifice the new partner of Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), a straight arrow named Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), who is new to downtown policing. A wild card is Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), who is watching out for his kin but has a few quirks of his own.
This just gives a rough idea of the plot which has more than a few red herrings to distract you along the way. With every character following his or her own agenda, it’s not easy to tell which alliances will hold and which will end in betrayal. As with much of film noir, it’s best not to trust anyone. While some of the characters are sympathetic, justice is merciless in this world.
An interesting subtext for the characters is their addictions, whether to drugs or to violent action. When Marcus says he can’t even remember the details of a shooting Chris points out that humans are wired that way, prepared to fight (or not) without involving higher brain functions. This is a violent movie, but it’s not a stupid one.
The film’s ensemble cast is a major asset. In addition to those mentioned above, there are turns by Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Kenneth Williams, Norman Reedus, and Aaron Paul. Indeed, there’s not a wrong note delivered by anyhone in the bunch.
“Triple 9” is an above average effort for a type of film that was once a Hollywood staple. For audiences primed for this kind of material, it’s a winner.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.