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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

Gloat all you like, but just remember, I’m the star of this picture.

The Avengers 5.11: Epic
Epic has something of a Marmite reputation, and even as someone who rather likes it, I can quite see its flaws. A budget-conscious Brian Clemens was inspired to utilise readily-available Elstree sets, props and costumes, the results both pushing the show’s ever burgeoning self-reflexive agenda and providing a much more effective (and amusing) "Avengers girl ensnared by villains attempting to do for her" plot than The House That Jack BuiltDon't Look Behind You and the subsequent The Joker. Where it falters is in being little more than a succession of skits and outfit changes for Peter Wyngarde. While that's very nearly enough, it needs that something extra to reach true greatness. Or epic-ness.