"some powerhouse performances. An utterly compelling watch well worth giving up hours of your evening for"
A common debate within any form of entertainment - from books, to television shows, to movies - is whether character or plot are the most important element, should plot drive the character or should character drive the plot?
As vehemently some may contest their chosen view, there isn't really a true right or wrong answer, but something that varies from each creator or creation to the next. As likely as it is to be either/or, it's just as likely for the focus to be both, or neither, depending on how one chooses to look at it.
It is via this lens that 'Triple 9' is best approached, and its compelling exploration of human nature can be truly appreciated.
Trapped between the proverbial rock and hard place, a collection of criminals and corrupt cops consider the extreme in order to pull off a seemingly impossible heist.
'Triple 9' feels less like a recorded series of events. Each action has a reaction. Each decision - both noble and despicable - breeds consequences. It's a vicious circle of a narrative that is as chaotic as anything that happens in real-life and follows confidently in the footsteps of similar films such as Training Day, End of Watch, or, more appropriately, director John Hillcott's previous effort, Lawless.
Hillcott weaves the words of relative newcomer Matt Cook into a gritty tapestry of betrayal, fellowship, deceit, and redemption. All of which stem from clearly defined, if occasionally fluctuating, characters. The pace is swift and barely pauses along the way, propelling the audience as breathlessly through moments of reflection and confusion as it does moments of action. As with the aforementioned Lawless, there is a palpable sense of escalating tension hanging over proceedings, creating some truly edge-of-the-seat, unpredictable set-pieces in a similar vein to The Raid. Without the martial arts, though, of course.
At the centre of the events, Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone) is on sterling form as a rookie detective trying to make sense of everything, with solid support from Anthony Mackie (The Winter Soldier). Woody Harrelson (True Detective) is on-hand to offer some extra pathos, as well as some much needed levity. Aaron Paul is as phenomenally intense as he ever was in Breaking Bad, though it could be argued that his character is a spiritual brother of Jesse Pinkman. And Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) continues on his path to world domination, showing once again that there is nothing he can't do, repeatedly serving as heart, soul, and a driving, sympathetic force of the film.
The rest of its cast reads like a who's who of popular, sought-after, and critically acclaimed Hollywood stars, with everybody from Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) and Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), to Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) and the Amazonian warrior herself, Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) lending their presence to roles that range from inciting to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it.
Given its ensemble and the fact it meanders back and forth between various threads rather , It would be easy to dismiss a lot of Triple 9's positives into negatives and consider it a bit of a mess, and there will no doubt be those that do. Perhaps understandably so.
Scratch beneath its Michael Mann-esque surface and there is a lot to enjoy from the brief glimpse into these worlds, in terms of spectacle and distinctly human conflicts.
Although the ending is a slight misstep and ending on a poor note, and numerous actors are wasted in their roles, Hillcott succeeds up to that point in keeping things not only cohesively on track, but thoroughly exciting and enthralling.
Such minor, niggling flaws aside, 'Triple 9' is a stellar addition to the realistic crime genre, boasting solid writing, occasionally brilliant direction, and some powerhouse performances. An utterly compelling watch.