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Review: Triple 9 – “A muscular, but by-the-numbers, crime thriller”

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Triple 9 is directed by John Hillcoat, who has enjoyed a rich and raw vein of form with Lawless, The Roadand The Proposition. His new film is set in the present day U.S., which is a first for him, and stars Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie and Kate Winslet.

After a gang of criminals – including a sweaty Aaron Paul and a wasted Norman Reedus – pull off a bank robbery they have been hired to commit by a Russian gangster, they send their leader (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to collect their money. But while their previous employer is in jail, his wife (Winslet) is minding the store and is actually colder and harder than her husband.

She refuses to pay the guys until they do another (almost suicidal) heist and, when they argue, offs a couple of them – leaving them with no choice. To succeed the gang are going to have to distract all the police in the city, and the only thing capable of doing this is a “999”: the murder of a policeman. While the robbers are up to all this, two detectives (Affleck and Harrelson) are on their case, and one is partnered up with a fellow cop who is actually also one of the thieves (Mackie).

The ploddingly paced plot is punctuated with some interesting set pieces: a visceral bank job, a pulse-pounding freeway shootout, and a raw tactical breach of a suspect’s apartment, but for the most part Triple 9 slowly drowns in its own sweat and testosterone. Of the massive male gang, only Mackie and Ejiofor feel fully realised, while the others have a single character trait each, and seeing this lot interact with each other is surprisingly dull.

Standing out and excelling among this collection of manly men being manly at each other to see who is most manly, Kate Winslet is awesome. A harsh and calculating Russian gangster’s moll with a permanently etched scowl, big hair, huge sunglasses and over-sized jewellery, Winslet is clearly relishing completely playing against type, and the film’s engine gets revved back up whenever she is on screen and ruthlessly cutting through the cloying machismo.

Triple 9’s other saving grace is Woody Harrelson doing absolutely anything he wants. Jaded, yet unpredictable and chomping on the scenery and his co-stars like they are coated in peanut butter, Harrelson is sometimes calm, sometimes crazy, but always absolutely magnetic.

Basic and mostly uninvolving, Triple 9 really doesn’t feel like a John Hillcoat film, with either the large starry cast, or the modern day setting throwing off his mojo. Luckily Kate and Woody can be relied on to add some magic and some manic to this muscular, but by-the-numbers, crime thriller.

3-out-of-5

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