Triple 9 movie review: Stylish thriller throws back to heist movies of old
It's hard to make a heist movie without reminding everyone of Heat, and John Hillcoat's Triple 9 doesn't even try. In fact an early sequence involving a daring bank raid may even have been intended as a tribute to Michael Mann's flashy mini-masterpiece. But the hoodlums here aren't half as slick as Robert De Niro's crew: this lot are dumb in varying degrees, and make one question the wisdom of bank-robbing as a career choice.
Michael Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his band of merry ne'er-do-wells seem pretty pleased with themselves when they steal a sizeable sum of cash from an Atlanta bank in broad daylight, but their celebrations are short-lived.
It seems they are in hock to a Russian gangster called Vlaslov, whose representative in these parts is his brassy, chilling wife, Irina (Kate Winslet). The gang are being blackmailed, and will only be able to cancel their debt if they pull off a seemingly impossible job and liberate the mobster's sequestered fortune. And just to make sure everyone's paying attention, Irina murders one of them.
To complicate matters further, two of the gang, Atwood (Anthony Mackie) and Rodriguez (Clifton Collins), are cops, but that inside knowledge soon presents them with a possible advantage. Atwood has just started working with a blow-in detective called Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), whom he doesn't particularly like. Allen has become suspicious of Atwood's connections and methods, and seems like the kind of man who does everything by the book. So Atwood and Belmont decide to use him as part of their plan.
The facility where the Russian's $5 million stash is stored is so well defended that a distraction will be required. The one thing that's sure to divert most of the city's police force will be the shooting of one of their own, so Atwood agrees to lure Allen into a trap and open fire. But that won't be as easy as it sounds, and meanwhile the raid itself proves even more difficult than they'd imagined.
Australian director John Hillcoat announced himself internationally with his dark and accomplished 2005 Outback western The Proposition, and did a marvellous job of adapting Cormac McCarthy's dystopian novel in his 2009 film The Road.
Lawless, Hillcoat's 2012 hill-billy bootlegging thriller was crude, unpleasant and a bit of a step backwards, but with Triple 9 he returns to form: it's a stylish, inventive and consistently entertaining thriller.
It oozes menace from the get-go, and its violence is not done by halves. But it doesn't glamorise conflict and gunfire in the way that Michael Mann did: the violence here is dirty, nasty and real. The early scenes and that first bank robbery provide the most visually accomplished moments, especially when the gang are forced to stop their car during the getaway after one of the money sacks unleashes a cloud of orange dye, marking them all as outcasts.
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor takes on perhaps his darkest role yet playing Belmont, a desperate and ruthless criminal who seems to treat murder as an occupational hazard. Woody Harrelson brings a splash of southern swagger to the proceedings playing Chris Allen's uncle, a dedicated, alcoholic cop. And Casey Affleck, who after a quiet couple of years appears in two films in the same week, portrays the movie's protagonist with his usual quiet authority and intensity. He's a very fine actor, with an edgy, watchful quality that's rarely well used.
Kate WInslet leaves nothing behind playing the film's principal villain, Irina Vlaslov, a woman who seems worryingly inured to cruelty and violence. She throws the kitchen sink at her heavy Russian accent, and with her bleached hair, heavy make up and garish business suits, comes across like an eastern European dominatrix.
Somehow, it all works, and Winlset almost makes us believe that Lady Macbeth has been reborn east of the Volga.
Triple 9 (16, 115mins)