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Triple 9 | John Hillcoat

February 25, 2016

So unreconstructed that it barely registers, John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 is a slickly crafted, but almost ruthlessly conventional crime thriller, winding up a handful of cops and crooks like little toys (all played to the hilt by a prestige cast) and watching them stumble into each other in a bloody climax. There’s almost nothing in it that doesn’t feel prescribed. You’ve got your young cop in a new department (Casey Affleck), the hyper-competent thief with a conscience and an estranged kid (Chiwetel Ejiofor), his loyal crew of dirty cops scrambling to cover up a heist gone bad (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr., Aaron Paul, and Norman Reedus), and the dangerous mob boss that ties them all together (Kate Winslet, maybe the only novel element here, still sadly underused). Perhaps the most unexpected occurrence is that nothing unexpected occurs. Slowly the characters cannibalize each other in scenes filled with well-researched street lingo and snappy, bloody violence until almost all of them are dead and the film…stops. Hillcoat has even abandoned the precise compositions and deliberate pacing of his earlier features like The Proposition and The Road, adopting instead the obligatory handheld of cop procedurals. The Atlanta location shooting is a nice change of pace from the cities these stories usually take place in, but it never lends lived-in atmosphere—unlike the Boston of The Town or the L.A. of Heat, just two films Triple 9 strains to imitate even while it inexplicably declines to reach for their more operatic tendencies. Hillcoat can’t even manage the absurd bro swagger of something like David Ayer’s stupid, thrilling Sabotage. You could draw a straight line from Training Day to The Shield to this, a sturdy but unmemorable “B” picture.

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