When a film is jam-packed with cast members that audience members already recognize from other projects, sometimes it works and, other times, it can be a distraction if the celebrity personality is more interesting than the character being portrayed. “Triple 9” unfortunately falls into the latter. Featuring the talents of Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet, the film becomes more of an exercise of “Where have I seen that actor before?” than anything else because the story is so paper thin.
The title “Triple 9” refers to a police code used to signify that an officer is down. A group of robbers in Atlanta working for the Russian mob decide that the only way for them to pull off a large-scale heist would be if they orchestrated a Triple 9, diverting the attention of the local authorities enough for them to finish the job. Two of the criminals on this team happen to be corrupt cops, putting them in the ideal position to betray one of their own without anyone ever suspecting that they could be responsible for the shooting.
Casey Affleck plays the rookie cop who is targeted by the criminals and does a convincing job of conveying the character’s naïveté as he navigates a city with so much moral ambiguity. Another bright spot of the film is Anthony Mackie as the crooked cop who is assigned to show Affleck’s character the ropes. At times, Mackie can be seen trying to channel his inner Denzel Washington from “Training Day,” but the angle of him being the one tasked to gun down his partner adds a layer of emotional complexity to the character that makes him compelling to watch.
Unfortunately, those two characters are the only ones in the entire film that are even remotely interesting to watch. None of the criminals are fleshed out enough or given adequate development to become anything more than generic robbers who rob things. As great as it is to see Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad” and Norman Reedus from “The Walking Dead” make the transition from television roles to the big screen, they aren’t given anything to do. Chiwetel Ejiofor as the leader of the crew scowls a lot, and maintains that facial expression for the entire movie. Kate Winslet seems to be having a lot of fun wearing her wig and doing a bad Russian accent, but it doesn’t change the fact that the character is poorly written and adds nothing of value to the movie.
An actor has to work within the confines of the script he or she is given, so some of inconsistent quality of acting throughout “Triple 9” falls on writer Matt Cook. Heist films have existed for decades, but this film doesn’t try to add anything new to the genre. There is an overreliance on clichés that have worked for similar films in the past, which hurts the films more than it helps because moments that are supposed to be shocking can be seen coming from a mile away. There are one or two exciting action sequences, to the credit of director John Hillcoat, but these scenes are too few and far between to make this a film that justifies a trip to the theater.