It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There are movies about ugly, vile people, and there are ugly, vile movies. “Triple 9” is the latter.
Turning his interest in macho nihilism that he explored more effectively in “The Proposition” and even the flawed “Lawless” to bank robbers and the Russian mob, director John Hillcoat again assembles a stunning cast of household names and proceeds to waste almost all of their talents on an under-lit, increasingly ridiculous, generally ineffective dirty cop movie. It is a film that cribs openly from Michael Mann and Sidney Lumet without understanding what really makes either director work. Occasionally, the overwhelming talent of the cast will elevate the material, but not nearly enough to shake the feeling when it’s done that you could use a shower.
The best scene in “Triple 9” is arguably its first real set-piece, the robbery of a downtown Atlanta bank by former special ops mastermind Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), dirty cop #1 Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), dirty cop #2 Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.), getaway man Russel Welch (Norman Reedus), and his brother Gabe (Aaron Paul), a character who might as well being wearing a red shirt and named “Future Liability.” Hillcoat and cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis (“The Drop”) frame the bank robbery beautifully, taking us from the high-pressure of the vault to the getaway gone wrong after a red dye pack explodes. It’s tense, well-shot and sets up the audience for a high stakes thriller that never comes.
It turns out the quintet wasn’t there for the money—they were tasked with stealing a very specific safety deposit box by Russian mob mastermind Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), who is now refusing to pay the group until they perform another job. Irina has control over Michael because Michael has a son with Irina’s sister Elena (Gal Gadot) that the Russians are basically holding hostage, not allowing his father to see him. This plot thread is not only poorly-developed, it’s a little morally grotesque in that it feels designed to create sympathy for someone who should be a villain, especially when we learn what the title means.