Editor’s Notes: Triple 9 will be released on its respective home video format on May 31st.
Triple 9 (Universal Home Entertainment) is, on the surface, a B movie with familiar trappings — a robbery, betrayal, a femme fatale. An unusually impressive roster of actors, however, elevates what otherwise might be a mediocre picture to one that demands attention.
A methodically planned Atlanta bank robbery starts Triple 9 with excitement. Before we know anything about the perpetrators, we witness their precision of execution, knowledge of the bank’s layout, rigid time schedule, and token gunfire to terrify employees and customers.
Eventually, we learn that the team is a mix of bad cops and former military special ops. Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.) are the police officers and Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul) a former cop. Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the former brother-in-law of Irina Vlasov (Kate Winslet), head of the Russian-Jewish mob. Using his son as a pawn, Irina manipulates Atwood into doing her nefarious bidding.
When the team delivers the stolen cash and demands payment, Irina stalls them with the promise of a huge payday if they postpone taking their cut until they do one more job for her. Feeling double-crossed, they finally agree to the second job after Irina incorporates lethal muscle.
The requisite good guy is police officer Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) who is new to the precinct and is partnered with Belmont. Hard-drinking detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) is Chris’s uncle.
The plot is all over the place yet keeps us glued through a combination of confusion and awe. Director John Hillcoat has no problem setting up intricate relationships, but less success developing them with clarity. Though the good guys don’t recognize the bad guys, we know the relationships. It would probably have increased suspense if this information were doled out gradually and more dramatically. The characters, with one exception, are generic types we’ve encountered before.
The exception is Irina, a cold-blooded woman who runs the criminal enterprise while her husband sits in a Russian prison. Sporting a bouffant hairdo and a huge Star of David, Irina coolly dispatches her yarmulka-wearing thugs to carry out her bidding. Confident in her power to get what she wants through intimidation and worse, she is right up there with such screen crime icons as Don Corleone (The Godfather), Tony Montana (Scarface), and Frank Costello (The Departed). With a convincing Russian accent, Ms. Winslet adds both class and raised eyebrows to the proceedings.
Hillcoat portrays the mean streets of Atlanta like a war zone, with automatic weapons, gangs, and drugs an everyday way of life. This environment has both hardened the robber cops and given them the knowhow to enrich themselves under the guise of protecting the community. When the second heist requires a major distraction to draw cops away from the scene, they figure that the shooting of a cop — in coptalk, a “triple 9” — will draw nearly every police officer in the vicinity.
The film earns its R rating with considerable violence, much of it unexpected. In this movie, human life is only as valuable as a cog in a well-oiled mechanism. When any member of the team threatens to expose the others, he becomes expendable.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray edition include deleted scenes, the cast offering an in-depth look at the film’s characters and plot twists, and a discussion with director John Hillcoat and cast about how their approach to filmmaking helped to highlight the movie’s gritty, authentic look and feel.