Release date: 19th February 2016/Watch the trailer here
I was unlucky enough to catch an early screening of the newest film from John Hillcoat, Triple 9.
Woody Harrelson. Kate Winslet. Casey Affleck. Chiwetel Ejiofor. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad). Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead). Anthony Mackie (aka Marvel’s Falcon). Gal Gadot (aka DC’s Wonder Woman). Isn’t it a shame when good actors star in a bad film?
The all-star cast, comprising of arguably some of the finest actors and actresses around today, was the initial reason that I was looking forward to watching Triple 9. Sadly, this film serves as a reminder that a good cast does not necessarily make for a good film.
Triple 9 follows a gang of criminals and corrupt cops (Ejiofor, Paul, Reedus, Mackie and Clifton Collins Jr.) who have been blackmailed by the Russian mob (led by an unconvincing Winslet, all hairspray and blue eyeshadow and dodgy accent) to pull off a heist that will require the gang to ‘pull a 999’ (kill a police officer) in order to create a big enough distraction to allow them to succeed.
On paper, the plot sounds formulaic and predictable enough – so why was it so complicated and difficult to follow on screen?
Triple 9‘s major downfall is its cast. For all the star appeal that the big names carry, it’s a case of too many cooks, with too many underdeveloped characters and barely-explained storylines to make for a concise plot. Perhaps five minutes out of Triple 9‘s 115-minute runtime is dedicated to developing its characters. In fact, I don’t think I can remember the name of a single character. When a film has a large ensemble cast, it is essential that it takes the time to explain to the audience its characters’ motivations – the reasons why they act in the way that they do. Without this, it’s virtually impossible to care when a character that we know next-to-nothing about gets shot in the head.
Another crucial downfall of Triple 9 is making every single character unlikeable. The lines are blurred between ‘the good guys’ and ‘the bad guys’ until you realise that you’re not rooting for either side. You don’t care which side wins or loses, you don’t care who lives or dies, and that is far from a sign of a good film.
It feels like Triple 9 is trying to achieve the edge and the grit of a film such as, say, David Ayer’s phenomenal documentary-style police drama End of Watch. However, gratuitous gang violence and gore at every possible opportunity does not equal edgy or gritty or shocking or controversial, it just indicates laziness. There are ways to communicate threat and horror to your audience effectively – just look at the ‘bodies-in-the-walls’ opening sequence of Sicario. One stomach-churning, gruesome shot to set the scene and determine the monstrosities that the ‘bad guys’ are capable of is memorable and effective. Constant decapitated heads and legs being blown off à la Triple 9? Yawn. We get it. The criminals in Atlanta are mean.
‘Yawn’ seems like as good a word as any to sum up Triple 9: quite simply, it’s boring. It shouldn’t be, because it has an interesting cast and a plot that should be exciting, but Triple 9 somehow manages to take all that should be good about it and makes it dull. The final half an hour sort of picks up the pace and makes for an almost thrilling finale, but ‘sort of’ and ‘almost’ just aren’t good enough. Feel free to go for a toilet break or grab some popcorn at any time during Triple 9 – you’re not likely to miss anything.