Bootleggers, cowboys, the apocalypse and now director John Hillcoat turns his hand to the story of a group of criminals and corrupt cops who are pawns of the Russian Mafia in Atlanta, Georgia .
Triple 9 follows the team, led by Michael Belmont (Ejiofor) and their attempt to be free of their controllers, by performing one last, difficult heist; they devise a dangerous plan, which will involve the murder of a rookie outsider (Affleck), but suspicion grows, tensions rise and wheels are set in motion which could mean the failure of their enterprise.
Hillcoat makes it clear that we are in dark, muddied waters through the movie’s visual makeup; from the sweaty police station, to car interiors the seedy nightlife, in the moody and grungy settings where the scheming and shootouts take place, the characters are almost perpetually in shadow.
The movie features several solid and violent set pieces, which are effectively crafted to generate tension; the foremost of these is the storming of a suspect's apartment complex where Chris and Marcus (Mackie) lurk behind a protective shield as they stray deeper and deeper into danger.
Indeed, threat of what might occur lingers even in the quieter, more personal moments involving Chris’ wife (Teresa Palmer); similarly there are certainly enough twists and turns in its plotting to keep the audience engaged in the movie.
The ramifications of each character’s decisions, both major and minor, play out onscreen to highlight just how destructive their behaviour is, and just how deep they are willing to go into danger and licentiousness.
Yet despite all its promise and willingness to explore the many grey shades of morality, Triple 9 never seems to enliven itself into something definitive. It feels like it is trying to make some sort of comment about American class or life, though what that message is, it never materialises.
Attempting some bold moves, it progresses promisingly but after one particular moment towards the end, it loses steam and later, the movie closes somewhat abruptly.
With a varied and impressive ensemble, who are mostly well cast in their respective roles, Triple 9 affords them meaty moments of interaction to sink their teeth into, but none of them are given enough screen time to properly develop.
Woody Harrelson in particular falls victim to this, notably playing a very similar character to what we have seen from him in his other work, yet he hardly appears throughout the course of the movie (although his cocky manner is still enjoyable to behold).
Out of everyone Chiwetel Ejiofor is given the most to work with, and as such he performs admirably as the conflicted but determined group leader, but even his performance feels restricted. There is a rather large gap midway through in which he abandons the main story only to reappear later.
Additionally, Kate Winslet should impress as a Russian Mafia matriarch, but she fails to generate an intimidating presence, or even an accent, to convince us of her licentiousness.
Overall, Triple 9 is a dark, tense and enjoyable ride, with enough on show to thrill audiences but not enough depth to define it against other movies of its ilk, such as Sicario (2015).
It’s a serviceable example of what its cast and crew are capable of, but not the sensational show of talent that it could have been.
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet and Gal Gadot.