Crooked Cops and Double Crosses Blast onto Blu-Ray in ‘Triple 9’

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A cursory glance at the filmography of director John Hillcoat shows one thing that seems to run through all of his works – bleakness. Hillcoat crafts stories of tough guys pushed to the edge, typically meeting an unfortunate and violent endings. The Proposition, The Road, and Lawless are gritty, hard-boiled tales of ugly violence and a pervading bleakness as characters rarely get what they want and leave a trail of blood behind. Having come out in late February to little fanfare, Hillcoat’s latest, Triple 9, might be his bleakest, bloodiest film yet with its intricate tale of crooked cops and violent mobsters. Featuring some dazzling action sequences, Triple 9 is pretty solid crime thriller that completely shuns the morality play featured in most tales of cops and robbers.

Triple 9 opens with Mike (Chiwetel Ejiofor) with the brothers Gabe (Aaron Paul) and Russell (Norman Reedus) discussing their plans. The audience isn’t clued in to what they’re planning, but it’s a major heist with other players set to join the fray. The film then flashes forward a few weeks to the execution of the heist. Mike, Gabe, Marcus (Anthony Mackie), and Franco (Clifton Collins, Jr.) are all in the inside of a bank in broad daylight, guns drawn. Russell watches from the street, giving pieces of advice and information to the robbers inside. Their getaway doesn’t go according to plan when a smoke bomb planted in some cash explodes, filling their van with red smoke that stains their skin and clothes. This leads to an unsettling shoot out on a crowded Atlanta freeway. They all get away, and it’s only afterwards that we learn that these criminals, with the exception of Mike and Gabe, are members of the Atlanta Police Department.

These crooked cops are motivated by Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), a Russian Jew that runs a crime syndicate with an iron fist. She promises the crooked cops and their cohorts’ payment for their crimes only to withhold payment for more brutal services. Her sister Elena (Gal Gadot) has a child with Mike, and Irina dangles the safety of the young boy over Mike’s head to get what she wants. If these crooked cops don’t commit one more dangerous heist, Irina will slay the cops and their family. Breaking into a federal building to secure what Irina demands isn’t so simple, and the gang of illicit lawmen agree that the best way to get enough time to pull off the job is to perpetrate a triple 9 – the police code for killing a cop. Their target is Chris (Casey Affleck), recently promoted to detective and now working as Marcus’ partner. Serving as Chris’ mentor is his uncle Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson), who isn’t much of a saint and has a severe drinking problem. There’s tensions on the streets of Atlanta as there aren’t many good guys in the muggy city of crooked cops, betrayals, and brutal gangland violence.

One aspect of Triple 9 that might repel certain members of the audience is the fact that the film’s protagonist is Mike, and not the lone cop of virtue in Chris. With the exception of Chris, all of the characters in the film are corrupt in one way or another, trying to find a way to play their situation and each other for their own personal gain. It really boils down to the question of honor among thieves, and there’s not much honor to be found here. There’s always intrigue and darkly comedic entertainment to be found in these seedy characters, especially Michael K. Williams playing against tough guy type as the drag queen Sweet Pea.

Not only does Hillcoat craft an engaging world of distrust and seemingly endless betrayals, one where you’re guessing who is going to turn on who on top of guessing who might actually walk away, but he the director really crafts some astonishing moments of visceral action. The opening robbery is excellent, never employing the ridiculous shaky cam technique that dominates action filmmaking these days. Then there’s the crazed shootout in a gang-run apartment complex, an escalating chamber of horrors where bullets fly freely. As far as testosterone-fueled shoot ‘em ups go, Triple 9 stands among the top of the recent pack, even if its story of double crosses can come across as a little too close to films like The Departed.

As far as the special features for the Blu-Ray of Triple 9, there aren’t really too many on the disc aside from a couple brief featurettes and a handful of deleted scenes. Among the deleted scenes is one featuring the aforementioned Michael K. Williams playing against type and an alternate take of a certain character’s demise. The alternate version of that one fateful scene is interesting if only to see how Hillcoat and company improved upon it by changing its setting and how it unfolds. By no means could I refer to the Blu-Ray of Triple 9 as thorough or a “special collector’s edition.” The meat and potatoes here is the movie and the movie alone.

Triple 9 is thoroughly enjoyable for what it is, a tough guy movie that operates without the guiding moral code that separates cops and robbers. As with all of John Hillcoat’s films, Triple 9 is extremely bleak in its worldview and has no problem expending its effort on subverting your expectations, especially in the realm of good and evil. Not many of today’s action films would dare dabble in the visual clarity or moral ambiguity the way Triple 9 does, and that’s why it can rise above the more generic aspects of its crooked cop story. Triple 9 isn’t a movie that deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly. These guys carry badges and use them for bad, and that’s always ugly.

Triple 9
  • Overall Score
3.5

Summary

A bleak and violent thriller of crooked cops, Triple 9 features some stunning action sequences that elevate the film above its standard fare of double crosses.

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