That which unfolds in Triple 9 needs to be talked about instantly after viewing – for no other reason than failure to do so would result in forgetting the entirety of this familiar crime story.
A group of grizzled men, with varying degrees of questionable morality who are often covered in sweat and blood (theirs and others), work both sides of the law in a violent matter, stopping here and there to talk in the hopes of touching upon something meaningful or important. Those asides elicit a small range of reactions, from involuntary laughter to only momentary pause.
In debt to a Russian syndicate, a group of current and former officers and special operatives – a who’s who of ruggedly handsome male actors – plan a series of heists across Atlanta, seeking personal and professional salvation. Of course things go wrong, people die, and an earnest cop is paired up with one of the corrupted to heighten the drama.
Once in a while there is a comment that alludes to something important, like how it is to be black in America, or the tension between communities and those who are positioned to serve and protect them, but for the most part, Triple 9 moves from one character to the next, hoping their shallow story will elicit some sympathy.
There is the gentled-eyed Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who just wants his young son back from his lover’s sister who happens to be running this crime foundation (Kate Winslet, with a questionable Russian accent). There is brotherly love between the protective older Russell (Norman Reedus) and reckless Gabe (Aaron Paul). Marcus (Anthony Mackie) seeks to complete the heist, though is unsure of how to deal with his family man new partner (Casey Affleck, positioned as the protagonist we root for because we see him kiss his son and wife goodbye often).
Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson portrays his old school Sergeant Jeffrey Allen as a loopy Luddite who drinks, smokes, and is great at his job, which makes for a great scene every time he appears while being completely in contradiction with the rest of the movie. His movie is the one I want to see.
While a mid-film chase scene that follows Affleck navigating a dangerous tenement proves tense, deft filmmaking, a plethora of one-note characters, all of who’s fates are clearly lined up, makes the payoff lackluster. Triple 9 simply never earns your trust or emotional commitment. As you learn later on, the title refers to a particular police code that corresponds to something mighty significant.
Death has no meaning, and violence and bloodshed seep through every scene in this sweaty, bulky piece of mediocrity that asks for some attention during its run time, and not a moment after.