Skip to main content

Out here, there is no good and there is no bad. To survive out here, you've got to out-monster the monster. Can you do that?

Triple 9
(2016)

(SPOILERS) John Hillcoat comes something of a cropper with this contribution to the heist genre, although not nearly as much as some of the reviews suggest.  Triple 9 is a mess, but it’s a mess populated by a selection of strong (and some not so strong) performances and impressively energetic direction. This may be very much a Heat-wannabe, and suffers from the comparison, but ultimately I was more engaged by its ambition than put off by its shortcomings.


Probably the biggest of which is that it simply lacks sufficiently strong characterisation to justify its spinning wheels of dodgy cops, good cops and malicious mobsters. One wonders if great chunks of Triple 9 were left on the cutting room floor. Certainly, it had its release date pushed back six months. On the one side we have a couple of ex-SEALs (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus) and their co-conspirators Aaron Paul (as Reedus’ brother, an ex-cop) and bent coppers Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins, Jr. On the other, there’s Casey Affleck as Mackie’s new partner and Woody Harrelson as Casey’s detective sergeant uncle, investigating the robbers’ case. Then there’s Kate Winslet supporting some impressively sculpted BIG hair as the wife of an imprisoned Russian-Jewish mafia boss and Gal Gadot as her sister (and Ejiofor’s wife).


So there’s a plethora of heads to keep a count of. Unfortunately, Hillcoat and writer Matt Cook (the upcoming Patriots Day) have difficulty keeping tabs on any of them. When it comes to the heists, or a particularly standout sequence where Mackie and Affleck enter an apartment building and give chase to a suspect, the picture becomes enervating and pulse-pounding. It’s in the whys and wherefores of what they do that Hillcoat and Cook let things slide.


While it isn’t as if Heat needed to go to great pains to underline the motivations of its characters – so it was certainly within Triple 9’s grasp –  the thieves here remain less than slender of purpose. Ejiofor appears to be the ostensible leader and the character with the clearest discipline and code, yet his under-duress jobs for Winslet aren’t entirely convincing; he just wants to see his son, the stuff of crude melodrama, which doesn’t really explain his fellows’ motivation, given the high stakes involved and Kate’s rather reckless willingness to dispose of team members as a showing of meaning business (thus limit the chances of her getting her prize).


The Triple 9 (an office down) is suggested as a means to create confusion, so facilitating their second job (retrieving vital evidence from police custody); Affleck is to be the recipient, since Mackie objects to his encroaching on his territory (but then has second thoughts). If there’s little sympathy for the gang – Paul is even playing another of his hopeless junkie type parts, the perquisite unstable gang member – then Affleck’s performance appears to be entirely predicated on how much gum he can chew in any given scene.




I’m not Affleck’s biggest fan, partly because he has a habit of showing up in roles for which he’s entirely unsuited (Gone Baby Gone), and his alternately savvy and rather slow cop (depending on where he needs to be for third act developments) is definitely not one of his more believable roles; it’s almost as if, with every chew of that gum, he’s thinking “I can play a convincing cop. I can play a convincing cop”. At least Harrelson is a welcome antidote to this, wholeheartedly embracing his livewire old pro and thus distracting from how thin the proceedings are.


When Ejiofor eventually decides to blow Winslet up, you wonder why he didn’t do it in the first place (anyone could see she was never going to give him what he wanted, particularly after she starts demanding more for less), compounding a persistent feeling throughout of characters having insufficiently clear reasons for doing what they’re doing, not through intentional ambiguity but as a result of unclear plotting. Nevertheless, this is neither vastly better or inferior to some recent entries in the genre, such as The Town (overrated) and Takers (underrated). I tend to be an easy sell for this kind of crime flick, and Triple 9 kept me distracted but didn’t ultimately persuade me to invest in anyone in it, while the plot itself failed to take up the slack.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.

Sir, I’m the Leonardo of Montana.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013) (SPOILERS) The title of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s second English language film and second adaptation announces a fundamentally quirky beast. It is, therefore, right up its director’s oeuvre. His films – even Alien Resurrection , though not so much A Very Long Engagement – are infused with quirk. He has a style and sensibility that is either far too much – all tics and affectations and asides – or delightfully offbeat and distinctive, depending on one’s inclinations. I tend to the latter, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the trailers for The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ; if there’s one thing I would bank on bringing out the worst in Jeunet, it’s a story focussing on an ultra-precocious child. Yet for the most part the film won me over. Spivet is definitely a minor distraction, but one that marries an eccentric bearing with a sense of heart that veers to the affecting rather than the chokingly sentimental. Appreciation for