Triple 9

A.K.A what happens when bad movies happen to good actors

Sometimes you will go the cinema and see a film for one actor you particularly like. Occasionally, you are lucky enough to see a film that for two or three of actors who like. It’s rare to find a film that has an entire lead cast that you truly admire. Triple 9 has a cast made up of some truly talented actors (listed with my favourite of their works):

The trailer for the film looked engaging enough, full of twists and deceit. Then, last night at Cineworld’s Unlimited Secret Screening, I got to see Triple 9. The film is a flawed, convoluted and bitterly depressing 116-minute journey. In all honesty, I would have walked out at about 30 minutes in, if it were not for wanting to find out what happened to the characters played by the above actors along with the fact that I wanted to write a fully-informed review about it. My main hope from writing this review is to discover why I instinctively and vehemently did not like this movie.

Michael (Ejiofor) is the head of a criminal crew that is formed of cops and criminals. The film opens with Michael and his crew (Reedus, Mackie, Paul and Clifton Collins Jr.) undertaking a bank robbery. The men are vicious, with an arsenal of tools to threaten. These include guns, explosives and even a portfolio of information about the bank manager’s personal life to adequately blackmail. The crew get what they came for and leave, but their escape is made messy by greed, which leads to the accidental opening of a dye pack which marks all of them. This mistake aside, all appears well and they hand over the item they stole for gangster Irina Vlasov (Winslet). She withholds their payment however, as she wants them to commit an even more high-profile robbery. A robbery that the men think would be impossible. That’s when one of them realises that it would be possible if the gang splits into two. One half would commit the robbery itself, whilst the other half would provide the police with a distraction. The only crime that would distract an entire police force would be  a Triple 9 – the shooting of a fellow officer. The new partner of Marcus (Mackie) would be the ideal target. However Chris (Affleck) is the Sergeant Detective’s (Harleston) nephew, and both men are highly suspicious as to the identities of the crew.  

First and foremost, it is not the cast who are at fault with this movie.Each of the actors brings a great deal to role, not one of them phones in their performance. Each actor uses what little they have been given to great effect. It’s practically everything else that is a problem. The opening sequence is comprised of tight-framing, minimal lighting and dialogue that poses more questions than answers. By starting in media res (mid action) the film trying to engage you what is going on, but does not provide any reason to actually care about the characters who are participating in these events. This is true of the entire film, we are given little-to-no reason to care about any of the characters. The crew are not charismatic or conflicted enough to be anti-heroes, and the ‘heroes’ are too flawed to side with.

The story that then plays out appears cleverer than it actually is, often leaving the audience unsure what is going on but not motivated enough to figure it out. There is little connection between each scene, jumping around between different characters at different times, without any clarity of how much time has passed. It drifts between place, people and time without giving the viewer anything to anchor on. If a point is trying to be created through this technique, some attempt at social-cultural-political commentary, it does not succeed.

Then there’s the music which accompanies each sequence. The entire soundtrack is a lesson on how not-to-be-subtle, and how-to-bulldoze-your-audience. A soundtrack which is effective at building tension should be a mix of soft and loud to truly emphasize the points of tension. It should not be turned up to eleven for Each. And. Every. Single. Dramatic. Moment.

The cinematography is another example of how the film tried to be clever, but instead isolated the audience.  There’s shaky cam, fast-paced editing with a camera that moves too fast to allow the viewer to actually focus on anything. On the Sky Superscreen at the o2 Arena the effect was rather nauseating instead of tension-building.

Finally, for a cast of this skill and range, a director who could reign them in would be key- a key requirement that was clearly forgotten or ignored. At times many of the cast mumble their lines, making dialogue frequently incomprehensible. Perhaps this was a choice of tone, but frustrated audience is perhaps not really a tone. Many of the actors chew the scenery with over-acting and flailing about, always looking so bitter or impassive at what is going on. Then there’s Casey Affleck, not chewing the scenery but chewing gum in every single scene. His manner of chewing gum in this film rivals the mastication skills of a cow, imposing on his dialogue and stealing every scene he’s in just because it is so aggravating. Someone seems to have told him that his character must be channelled through his chewing gum habit, because Affleck seems to put every once of his acting skill into they way he chews that gum. I’ve never seen chewing gum chewed so aggressively or arrogantly outside of the secondary school I work out. He uses it to show the mood of his character, clearly using that instead of acting to provide any semblance of characterisation.

For a film that wants to be the next The Usual Suspects, L.A Confidential or Training Day Triple 9 is a film that is far too hurried (a remarkable feat at two hours long) and far-fetched to be so. For an account of corrupt cops that is completely true, and is far more powerful and gripping, watch Precinct Seven Five.

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