There is no denying quote how intense John Hillcoat’s latest production Triple 9 is. But to be suspenseful and make for uncomfortable viewing is merely half the job, and where this unfulfilling endeavour falls flat is within the narrative. In spite of the breathtakingly impressive cast assembled, many of which are renowned primarily for their work on the smaller screen, this film, fittingly, is reflective of that: taking an all too televisual approach.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Terrell, under strict instruction from his nefarious sister-in-law, the Russian crime-lord Irene (Kate Winslet) to round up a group of mercenaries to commit a hugely ambitious heist. Amongst them are brothers Gabe (Aaron Paul) and Russel (Norman Reedus) as well as those on the inside, as corrupt cops Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Marcus (Anthony Mackie) want to get in on the action. However with such an exhausting, daunting task ahead, they realise they need to create a diversion, and so decide they need to kill a cop to ensure the law enforcement are removed from the scene and positioned elsewhere. Chris (Casey Affleck) seems like the perfect victim, especially since his uncle Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) is heading up the case, and so will make sure his family member is the focus of attention.
There’s something distinctively Shakespearian about this piece, epitomised in how the lead characters can’t seem to wash red paint off their hands and clothes, as it all gets rather Lady Macbeth. Though a little contrived in its implementation, it remains a strong metaphor, as we’re dealing with a series of characters who have blood on their hands and there is nobody amongst this merry band of criminals who we ever feel like we can trust. Even Harrelson’s Detective, a perceived good guy, is somebody we remain at arm’s length with – though that is more of an indictment of the actor’s natural and unhinged sense of volatility, than it is the character. Red remains a prominent colour within this piece too, which is unique given thrillers of this nature so often have an electric-blue tinge. Regrettably, however, this is one of very few indelible aspects, in a film that doesn’t truly take any risks and is all too generic in its execution.
Part of the problem is that it’s an ensemble piece, and as such, we struggle to identify or form any palpable emotional connection with any one character, as we drift carelessly between varying narratives. Triple 9 becomes too complex and convoluted, and given the sheer credentials of this staggeringly impressive cast, it’s difficult not to feel underwhelmed when the final credits roll.