By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The recipe calls for law and disorder, but Triple 9 is so disorderly, it wears out its welcome and then some.
The twisty, neo-noirish crime thriller centers around a cop in modern-day Atlanta who gets caught up in a deadly heist scheme involving a ring of desperate thieves who plan to divert the law from their true crime.
The title refers to police code for “officer down,” which is an important plot point in that it describes the distraction the criminals intend to use – manufacturing a “999” — to have virtually all of Atlanta’s law enforcement personnel occupied elsewhere during their heist.
The gang we follow is a collection of corrupt ex-policemen and ex-soldiers.
And what they are forced to do, blackmailed by the Russian mob, is break into a seemingly impenetrable facility at the Department of Homeland Security.
Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins Jr. are dirty cops, but when Mackie gets a new partner, played by Casey Affleck, he’s a straight shooter. So the odd-couple dynamic is of the good cop-bad-cop variety.
Relying on a variation of the tired “one last job” cliché, the film is somehow simultaneously sketchy and cluttered, oscillating between slow-burn suspense and violent eruptions.
But we’re not always clear on who’s doing what to whom and why.
From the crime world come world-weary Chiwetel Ejiofor and brothers Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus, while the ruthless leader who forces this unlikely undertaking upon them is a Russian-Israeli mobster played by none other than Kate Winslet, whose character is trying to spring her husband from the Gulag.
Investigating their crime is an eccentric lawman played by Woody Harrelson, who is Affleck’s uncle and at one point complains about the level of coincidence on tap, as if critiquing the film itself.
Aussie director John Hillcoat (Lawless, The Proposition, The Road) grabs us by the lapels with a crisply executed opening robbery, but later seems to find it necessary to triple the number of gunfights and acts of cruel, sadistic violence until the nonstop intensity becomes tedious and the film’s seeming contempt for human life becomes obnoxious. The soundtrack is a concert of automatic weaponry. And by Act Three , internal logic has flown the coop.
Hillcoat has been blessed with an experienced, watchable cast, but given the erratic material, it often seems they’re slumming.
This is the first feature screenplay by Matt Cook, who makes sure to include plenty of relative interconnectedness – meaning family connections — among the many characters.
But there are so many wrinkles in the convoluted plot that the characters remain placeholders: we never really get to root or care for anybody.
So we’ll lift 2 stars out of 4 for a hard-boiled, plot-heavy ensemble crime drama. Triple 9, with its single-minded double-dealing, traffics in literal overkill.