2016, Movies

Triple 9 (2016, John Hillcoat)

I am always flabbergasted by movies with huge, all-star casts that somehow suck. I am particularly flabbergasted when it seems obvious to me that these actors could have easily figured out the movie was going to suck and so should never have signed up for them movie in the first place. Such a movie is Triple 9, a film which somehow includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus, Michael K. Williams, Gal Gadot and Clifton Collins Jr.


This is one of those films where you can literally feel the excitement from the executives around the high concept: a bank robbery and a cop killing! But really, it’s two movies in one:

  • the story of bank-robbers who are ex-military and current cops, using a cop killing to distract the local police but robbing banks not because they want to but because the Jewish Russian mob (seriously) has leverage on them;
  • the story of an aging, alcohol police detective trying to solve a bank robbery while protecting his nephew who has recently joined the force.

Someone thought those movies could be combined. Maybe they could be, but they weren’t well combined. The most glaring issue is the lack of a main character: is it Ejiofor or is it Affleck? Well, it’s Ejiofor for most of the movie, and it’s Affleck once Ejiofor is disposed of (sorry, but I did warn you). Why do we spend so much of the movie with Ejiofor and his kid if he’s going to die? That would be a great trick if it was artfully done, but it’s not.

Meanwhile, Harrelson, Winslet and Williams (in a cameo only) are doing bizarre characters as if they either think they’re in some kind of comedy, or they knew the script wasn’t going to work and figured they might as well go for it. Harrelson seems to speaking with something actually lodged in his mouth and who knows what Winslet is doing.

I think this could have worked with better editing and a decision to focus more on one story than the other (or to drop the Harrelson-Affleck subplot completely) but it doesn’t work. There are neat ideas, especially during the heists (both heist scenes are solid), but there’s just way too much film here, and way too many A-List and strong character actors doing average to bizarre work to make this film make much sense. And don’t ask questions about any of the plot holes because you won’t get any answers.


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