Triple 9 tackles the intertwined world of cops and criminals, where often they are one and the same. Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, Lawless, The Road) takes us to the the morally bankrupt depths of Atlanta, where dirty cops and criminals mingle together occupying the same shade of grey.
We’re first introduced to our anti-heroes as they embark on a intense bank robbery in downtown Atlanta. Led by former special operative Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the group includes getaway driver Russel Welch (Norman Reedus), his brother Gabe (Aaron Paul) as well as pair of dirty cops named Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.).
This bank heist scene is a strong first impression (and the undeniable peak of the film), totally absorbing and tense, showing flashes of classic Michael Mann. Things don’t go perfectly, but they got the job done. The job is through the dangerous Russian mob boss Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), who is the sister of Elena (Gal Gadot), the mother of Michael’s child. Just when they think they’re able to lay low for a while, Elena sends them a message forcing their hand at performing one last nearly impossible task that will put them all at risk.
The only solution for them to complete this task is to force the cops hand with a “999” which in police language means officer down. This would divert the entire police force towards their fallen officer, creating a perfect diversion for them to commit their next heist undetected. It just so happens that Marcus has been partnered with a hard working yet naive rookie cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) who is perfect to be their fall guy, considering he is the nephew of high ranking officer Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson).
Naturally, things don’t work out according to plan as Gabe is a loose end that causing the group unwanted attention, and after a few shifts out in the field, Marcus ends up forming a bond with Chris with creates an internal conflict he didn’t see coming. This storyline is nothing new, as it’s a familiar beat that has been used so much that it’s rather expected. The script from new screenwriter Matt Cook does rift too far towards familiar territory at times, and tends to be quite predictable. If anything, the it’s all held together by exciting muscular action sequences as well as it’s quite astounding ensemble cast.
The film does have its flaws, but the acting from the stacked cast elevates its material considerably. We get good turns from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr. and Woody Harrelson (if not a bit over the top). Winslet’s Russian accent isn’t totally convincing, but she plays the menacing part well. Aaron Paul is good here, but it’s hard not to see the similarities between his character here and Jesse from Breaking Bad.
Triple 9 is far from the perfect dirty cop, action drama, but it has enough tense action sequences and gritty performances to keep you well enough entertained. Sure you may be able to sniff out all the predictable “twists” and turns, but you’ll be entertained enough to give them somewhat of a past. I can see this being a fun late night watch for many audiences once it hits cable later in the year.