Triple 9 (2016)

First published by Real Crime Magazine

“I know you’re gonna laugh, but I want to make a difference.”

So says Chris (Casey Affleck), a rookie out on his first day patrolling with his more experienced cop partner Marcus (Anthony Mackie) – and unaware that Marcus moonlights in a criminal crew currently being blackmailed into service by Russian Jewish mobster Irina (Kate Winslet).  For their next operation, the crew (led by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s married-to-the-mob Michael) plans to “pull a 999”, i.e. distract the police force with an ‘officer down’ alert across town – and Chris is marked as the obvious target. With Irina brutally tightening the screws, allegiances become desperately strained – while Chris’ grizzled, substance-abusing uncle Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson, reprising and to an extent redeeming his rôle from 2011’s Rampart) investigates the crew’s previous robbery, and Aaron Paul, playing a criminal ex-cop caught in a drug-binging tailspin over his brother’s death, brings the same wildcard chaos that was his specialty in TV’s Breaking Bad.

Opening with a messy heist reminiscent of Heat (1995), then crossing into the morally murky jurisdiction of Training Day (2001), this Atlanta-set thriller comes from the helm of John Hillcoat, a director with a long rap sheet of films dealing in the criminal mindset (Ghosts… of the Civil Dead, 1988; The Proposition, 2005; Lawless, 2012). It is a tense, amped-up, hyperviolent caper whose cops and robbers are not always easy to distinguish – and along the way, it takes on board issues ranging from the effects of America’s pervasive gun culture to the traumatic backwash of the Gulf Conflict (many of the main characters are veterans). The very title of Triple 9 alludes to the close kinship that exists between America’s police officers – but this is also a gripping tale of dishonour among thieves.

© Anton Bitel