John Hillcoat makes manly movies. “Triple 9” is a masculine moving-picture, for men, at the multi-plex—but more so in the man-cave. Don’t spend $13.50 of moolah; wait for it on Netflix. Best thing about “Triple 9″—Casey Affleck.
Bungled Bank Bust
Several masked men enter an Atlanta bank during working hours and break into a safe deposit box. Very “Heat”-like. They would appear to make a clean getaway.
Except, of course, somebody got greedy and grabbed gratuitous cash, which included a crimson smoke bomb. “Boom!” Off it goes inside their getaway van, making them look like a bunch of cherry-colored amateurs.
Turns out, they are amateurs, after a fashion—two dirty cops: the scarily-sneaky, streetwise Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and the snake-ish Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.).
Then, there’s two ex-special forces military, the Welch brothers Gabe (Aaron Paul) and Russell (Norman Reedus).
Their fearful leader, Terrell Tompkins (Chiwetel Ejiofor of “12 Years A Slave”), is under the thumb of the “Kosher Mafia,” a Russian-Jewish mafia group run by the honey-tongued, bored, comic-book ruthless, and scant Russian-accented Irina Vaslov (Kate Winslet).
Irina yawns at their little cherry-bombed cash haul and insists they do another job, with gentle threats of extreme violence, because the safe-deposit box they proffer only puts her an insignificant step closer to getting her mob-hubby out of a Russian prison. She needs more.
For Thompson, the consequences of ignoring this order are compounded; he’s got a young son by Irina’s sexpot sister, Elena (Gal Gadot), shackling him to the mob, basically, as Irina’s slave. I wonder if it was for 12 Years.
The problem is, she desires a box of computer discs stored in a highly locked-down Homeland Security facility guarded by crack paramilitaries. What to do? We’ll return to this dilemma.
Sneaky cop Marcus gets a new partner, named Chris (Casey Affleck). Chris Allen’s an honest cop with serious integrity. He also wants to shine in his new job as a tribute to his uncle and mentor, crime investigator Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson).
Talk about “good cop, bad cop.” The two partners immediately butt heads in a scene in which Marcus dresses Chris down for manhandling some insanely-tattooed Latino Mara Salvatrucha gang-bangers who were hanging about like a vulpine peanut gallery, causing trouble on the perimeter of a seriously sicko crime scene.
This is a good scene for manly men of law enforcement to enjoy, by the way. Affleck, who started off his career as big bro Ben’s baby brother, with a highly idiosyncratic, chirpy speaking voice, is now a muscled-up charisma-radiating leading man, with all of Ben’s looks, and twice the talent. He smacks the bangers around like a boss.
Irina’s last job for Terrell, as mentioned, involves breaking into an impenetrable Department of Homeland Security facility, and the only way his team can pull that off is by utilizing a so-called “triple-9,” cop-code for “officer down”—the highest-priority police code of all.
What do cops do when a triple-9 goes out over the airwaves? Everybody cop within earshot drops everything and converges on the coordinates immediately.
The chess move being, of course, that with every last policeman tied up elsewhere, the less likely they’ll respond to the Dept. of Homeland getting jacked. Guess who’s gonna be set up to take the fall? Not the crooked cops. But the good-guy rookie, while green, ain’t dumb. Oops.
All in All
Affleck gives us someone to root for. Ejiofor’s a curious casting choice for an American cop, although his Ebonics-inflected American English is brilliant for a Brit. Most Brit actors excel at body-language replication, but Ejiofor looks uncomfortable in tough-guy roles. Mackie’s a malevolent masterpiece.
Especially good are the back-to-back scenes where the new partnership of Affleck and Mackie run down a TEC-9-spraying, drug-dealing gang member, ultimately ending with Mackie owing Affleck his life, and the drunken, bonding, bar scene thereafter. “It could’ve happened to anyone,” “It didn’t happen to you.” “Well … I am one bad (expletive omitted).” Man stuff.
“The Walking Dead’s” Norman Reedus looks sufficiently damaged as ex-military, but Aaron Paul is basically doing “Breaking Bad’s” Jesse Pinkman all over again; he’s not conveying nearly enough military toughness, even though the character is supposed to be spiraling out of control.
Collins easily embodies the snaked-eyed nightmare of corrupt law enforcement we all dread to contemplate. As he says, “I don’t have a problem taking out a cop.”
Like “Training Day” before it, “Triple 9” is eminently watchable, with tension throughout, and violence and treachery omnipresent. Like “Training Day” and “End of Watch,” after you enjoy the man stuff, you shudder to think how many of these types of brutal stories play out in real life, not too far from where you live.
Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collin, Jr.
Running Time: 1 hours, 35 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 26
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5