Movie review: Triple 9
Australian director John Hillcoat gets lost in the shadows of a dirty cop drama that has too many characters and not enough Woody or Winslet
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Running time: 115 minutes
MPAA Rating: Restricted
By Katherine Monk
If you’ve got Woody, you’ve got a movie. And this one’s a Triple 9. It sounds a lot sexier than it is because this is a cop movie, a dirty cop movie, or more accurately, a movie about dirty cops.
In fact, they are so dirty, we don’t even know they are cops until they take off their balaclavas and put their badges back on. It’s always a little concussive when the expected heroes in a Hollywood film turn out to be corrupt, and directors can use that punch as a knockout blow in the final act. Yet, Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) wastes no time delivering the goods.
Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Marcus (Anthony Mackie) are deep into the mob, and that means they’re often asked to abuse their power as police officers to please the boss. In this case, a no-nonsense Russian bottle-blond with a Star of David dangling between her generous bosom and a husband locked up in the gulag.
Irina Vlaslov is a larger-than-life villainess who wears too much red and speaks in Slavic monotone. She could have been a cross between Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle and Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, but thanks to Kate Winslet, she’s the best part of the whole movie.
Winslet shows off her ease with accents, as well as her ability to take flat, flimsy parts and fold them into something magical. She finds the tiny creases of personality that can make a Russian mob queen feel human: The way she looks into a child’s eye, her nonchalant acceptance of a man’s straying gaze, and her brassy body language – the kind that only bartenders and hookers are capable of pulling off with any conviction.
It says don’t fuck with me. And the weasel lawmen in this plot are fully prepared to obey her command, even if it means taking down one of their own in order to do it.
They need a diversion that will consume the whole force, and the best way to do that is to call in a Triple 9: “Officer down.”
The script tries to use this looming betrayal as a lever for suspense by offering up a sympathetic sacrificial lamb in Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a nice cop who just joined the unit. Chris is an affable alpha, the guy who only pulls his gun if he’s going to use it, and we can buy Ben’s newly buff little bro as the dude in a T-shirt and Levis. He’s got well-developed biceps, but his character remains undefined, and just a little soft.
It’s Woody Harrelson who firms things up playing Chris’s father-in-law who works with special crimes. Using his comic muscle to lift the leaden bricks of gangster cliché, Harrelson hurls the large pile of characters, meaningless dialogue and narrative debris aside, and keeps you waiting for his next scene.
Sadly, he’s not around nearly enough. Nor is Winslet. The two big marquee names have a handful of scenes, but they still make the biggest impression because the other characters don’t really do anything but plot and shoot each other.
Their world is murky and clouded in cop jargon, and because they never emerge, they remain a blur of bad intentions. Even with Chiwetel Ejiofor playing the father of Irina’s nephew, we never develop a real connection with the conflicted cops.
Hillcoat is a genius at pulling into the dark corners of character, and navigating the criminal mentality to find flaws we can recognize. Whether they are gunmen shooting it out in a revisionist western or a troop of corrupt cops, his bad guys are believable people at some level.
But that doesn’t mean we connect with them. If this was trying to be Training Day, the story needed to feel more contained. These characters disappear into the acid bath of genre, briefly emitting a shriek of existence before foaming into a bubble because there’s nothing unique to give the story shape.
Only Harrelson and Winslet leave a lasting impression because they somehow manage, in a limited time, to tell a story we can’t see – a life compressed into a few sassy and brassy impressions.
They bring some heart to the blood and guts. The rest of the body lies lifeless in the middle of the road, offering little more than the gruesome thump of morality as road kill.
THE EX-PRESS, February 26, 2016