115 minutes |MPAA rating: R
John Hillcoat’s new crime thriller “Triple 9” is only slightly less apocalyptic than his film of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” And “The Road,” of course, was about the literal end of the world.
With a big cast of fine actors (few of whom, oddly, get to do much acting) and a sprawling urban canvas reminiscent of Michael Mann’s “Heat,” this is the story of one-time good guys who are now bad guys.
Terrell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Russell (Norman Reedus) are former military special forces types now earning a living planning big capers on behalf of the Russian mob. As the film begins they’re pulling off a daring bank robbery that almost goes south (and leaves them covered in red dye) thanks to Russell’s loser brother, Gabe (Aaron Paul).
Terrell and Russell are so effective at what they do because they have inside help. Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge (CliftonCollins Jr.) are police detectives gone rogue. They not only help in planning these crimes, they suit up to participate. And then they help the thieves cover their tracks.
To say that these guys lack a moral compass is an understatement. Matt Cook’s screenplay never asks why or how our protagonists were corrupted; certainly the characters aren’t into soul searching.
But the result is a taut film that feels weirdly uninhabited…as a viewer I’d be at least as interested in how these guys came to this low ethical state as I am in the mechanics of their heists.
Their saving grace is that as bad as they are, they aren’t as bad as the Russian crime tsarina Irina (Kate Winslet), who’s about as hard a lady as you could ever meet. For this tough cookie pulling the teeth of a couple of miscreants, locking them in a car trunk and setting the whole thing on fire is all in a day’s work.