Review: 'Triple 9' Is A Heist Gone Wrong

Rachel LaBonte ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Chiwetel Ejiofor in Triple 9. Photo Credit: Open Road Films.
In law enforcement, the term “999” means a cop has been shot in the line of duty. If this happens, all officers are told to report to the site. What makes for a cop’s nightmare is a criminal’s delight, because it ensures their activity will get little attention. This is the plan concocted by the men at the center of  Triple 9, the new heist film that tries to be far bigger than it is.
Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) leads a group of hardened criminals and corrupt cops in pulling off heists for crime boss Irina (Kate Winslet). His crew includes brothers Russel and Gabe (Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul), shady homicide detective Jorge (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and Marcus (Anthony Mackie), a disenchanted cop who still seems to possess a bit of a conscience. By the end of the film, it’s only clear why Michael participates in these crimes. The other men’s backstories remain largely unexplored, which can be both frustrating and confusing. Irina has one last job for Michael to complete, and it’s the kind of insane, needs-a-miracle crime that prompts the men to consider instigating a 999. While the police are preoccupied, they can pull off their heist.
Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins Jr. in Triple 9. Photo Credit: Open Road Films.
The movie would have enough substance just focusing on the men and their exploits, but Triple 9 is too ambitious for that. In addition to them, there’s Chris (Casey Affleck), Marcus’ new partner who is chosen to be the target of the 999, and his uncle Jeff (Woody Harrelson), a boozy sergeant detective whose plot line is unnecessary. As awesome as Harrelson is as an actor, one finds themselves wondering why he’s there. The lengthy cast list would lead you to believe supporting players Teresa Palmer and Gal Gadot (as Chris and Michael’s romantic interests, respectively) to have at least one memorable moment. Alas, they are never on the screen long enough to make a lasting impact. That’s Triple 9’s biggest problem. It has an excellent crop of actors portraying some truly interesting characters. There’s just far too many of them.
Another area where Triple 9 struggles is its pacing. After coming up with the initial idea to carry out a 999, there are long stretches of time where it’s not discussed. At all. It’s like they’ve forgotten it’s an option. When we finally reach it, it’s the taut and tense sequence it should be, but immediately after the film feels like it’s dragging on too long. It feels jumbled and inconsistent with the rest of the movie.
Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson in Triple 9. Photo Credit: Open Road Films.
Triple 9 does have its high points, however. The performances are solid, particularly by Mackie and Ejiofor. Their characters have the most depth, and it’s interesting to see both men’s psyches evolve as the plot progresses. The opening sequence, in which the men pull off a bank robbery, kick starts the movie in a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat way that should’ve been an indicator of what’s to come. Unfortunately, the film never lives up to this start, leaving audience members to wonder just what could have been.
Overall grade: C
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