Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Gal Gadot, Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael Kenneth Williams, Clifton Collins Jr., Michelle Ang, Terence Rosemore, Terri Abney, Alexander Babara
Written by: Matt Cook
Directed by: John Hillcoat
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity
Running Time: 115
Date: 02/26/2016

Triple 9 (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bad Cops and Good Robbers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Establishing himself as a director of tough genre films, John Hillcoat offers this contemporary crime thriller, multi-faceted, and devilishly complex, without wasting any time on needless background. Ragged and colorful, Triple 9 — the title comes from the police code for "officer down" — doesn't offer any expository background for its characters. What's there is observed and inferred through behavior and interaction; the characters come alive organically.

Terrell Tompkins (Chiwetel Ejiofor) leads a team of professional criminals and crooked cops. He once married into the family of Russian-Jewish mobsters and now, in order to keep seeing his son, must placate their evil, ice-cold matriarch (Kate Winslet) by pulling off a nearly impossible robbery. Things become complicated when dirty cop Marcus Atwood (Anthony Mackie) gets a new partner, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a war veteran, whose uncle (Woody Harrelson) is a sergeant detective on the force. The gang decides that, in order to pull off the job, they must cause a code 999 — "officer down" — to happen, and that Chris is the perfect target. But another team member, Gabe (Aaron Paul) has been talking too much...

Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road, Lawless) does a remarkable job of juggling all the characters, and even the characters in smaller roles have vivid personalities. But the complex plot can sometimes fall prey to the movie's melting pot quality. It's easy to lose track of things. Likewise, the action sequences, while appropriately raw, have a reckless quality that might be disorienting. But this is a strong piece of work, rugged, sturdy, and entertaining in the best way.

Universal's Blu-ray release is a teeny bit light on the extras, four short deleted scenes and two short featurettes, but the audio and video on the movie itself are excellent and it's an unsung title worth discovering. It features optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles, and previews for other titles.

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