Director John Hillcoat’s latest offering, “Triple 9”, is yet another attempt to bring the “Grand Theft Auto” video game aesthetic to life on the big screen. Boasting an impressive and diverse cast, many playing against type, it presents us with a grim, relentlessly gritty and bleakly nihilistic view of the murky underworld of Atlanta, Georgia.
When a gang comprised of crooked cops and criminals pull off a heist at the request of a Russian mafia boss, they’re hoping for a quick and easy payday. But they’re merely players in a larger game and when the mafia demand one more job before payday, it sets up an explosive confrontation between the gang, the mafia and a dogged Police Detective investigating the heist.
Down and dirty, “Triple 9” doesn’t hold back from putting the mean into mean streets as it presents us with an array of shady characters, few of whom are heroes in any conventional sense. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anthony Mackie play very much against type as the leader of the robbery gang and a dirty cop respectively but its Kate Winslet who is the real revelation here, initially unrecognisable as the crassly glamourous and utterly ruthless Russian mob wife Irina Vlaslov, running her husband’s criminal empire while he’s stuck in a Russian gulag. Ultimately, it’s the introduction of good-guy cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) which destabilises the delicate balance of trust and terror, bringing events to a brutally violent crescendo.
The story’s commitment to its uncompromisingly harsh tone initially pays dividends but ultimately starts to undermine the film, as it starts to fall into repeating and rehashing the clichéd tropes of gritty crime dramas such as “Training Day” or “End Of Wacth”. It desperately wants to shock and surprise with clever twists and double-crosses but makes the fatal mistake of doing so time and again until it risks turning into a near farcical Pyrrhic bloodbath.
Betrayal can make for great drama; double crosses and even triple cross can transform a story from mediocre to magnificent but “Triple 9” pumps round after round from the chamber of that narrative weapon into the bloody and beaten body of the story until it loses all meaning. Gifted with some great performances, it’s suspenseful in parts, but tedious rather than tense when it really matters. I give “Triple 9” a solitary 6.