A Droid Premiere: Triple 9 (2016)
Surprise! Yes, it’s your old mate Droid here with a review of the new film ‘Triple 9’. Since it’s been a surprisingly long time since I wrote one of these, I expect it to be pretty terrible. So… par for the course, really.
Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Russell (Norman Reedus), Gabe (Aaron Paul), Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Franco (Clifton Collins, Jr) are thieves. Moments after we meet them, they’re pulling off a bank heist. Their target is a safe deposit box. The box contains half of something that will get a Russian Mafioso out of the gulag. The mafioso’s wife, Irina (Kate Winslet) is pulling the strings here. Her sister, Elena (Gal Gadot) is the mother of Michael’s child, and Irina is using visitation as leverage. Michael is told he and his gang also need to steal the other half of the macguffin. The problem is that the remaining macguffin is in a safe inside a secure government site. A virtually impossible task, because the police response time is just minutes and they calculate they’ll need at least 10. The only solution they can think of is a Triple 9, which is a police officer killed in the line of duty. All police will converge on the location of a Triple 9, which will give their team time to pull off the heist.
Pretty succinct set up, right? Hold your horses. There’s more.
Chris (Casey Affleck) is a cop, just transferred in to the mean streets courtesy of a favour from Detective Uncle Allen (Woody Harrelson). Chris’ new partner on the streets of mean is… Marcus. See, Marcus and Franco are also cops. And Gabe is an ex-cop, and also the brother of Russell. And Russell and Michael were in the military together. And Michael’s ties to the Russian’s connects them all to a violent, humourless, unfocused, convoluted and really kind of boringly executed narrative. Of course, Chris is the obvious target for the Triple 9.
If you can’t tell, this movie features way too many characters jockeying for screen time. Is this movie about an ex-military warrior drawn into crime in exchange for contact with his son? Or is he a career criminal who just happens to have been in the military? And what difference does it make to the movie that he was in the military anyway? It’s mentioned once when the cops are watching video of the heist, then is never mentioned again.
Or maybe the movie’s about the new cop who’s partner is involved in dodgy extracurricular activities and finds himself unravelling a complex plot involving murder and corruption. And Russians. Hang on, I think I’ve seen this movie before. That one had the partner setting up the young cop to get killed by a dodgy Mexican gangbanger as well. I recall a poker game. And a bathtub springs to mind. A wallet… And an almost film-ruining coincidence. I got it! This 2010 Black List script by Matt Cook is a bastardisation of ‘Training Day’. Only with about a million more characters.
What’s probably the most surprising thing here is that there really aren’t any performances worthy of any attention. With this cast, you’d expect at least that. Woody comes out best simply because he’s putting his usual Woody spin on the character. I’m pretty sure he’s sporting false teeth just because. He’s either drunk or high in pretty much every scene he’s in. And there aren’t enough, because he’s easily the most entertaining thing about this movie.
It seems as though Kate Winslet, who transitions in and out of a bad Russian accent, now almost exclusively plays villains. I don’t know why her career has shifted in this direction because judging from this and those terrible Divergent movies, she’s a lousy villain. Casey Affleck’s character is really underdeveloped, but I’ll go into that in a minute. Just, with this many characters, they all are. And Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Michael is incredibly unsympathetic. At no point in the story do you sympathise with his plight. His kid would be better off without him. Which is especially damning considering the kid’s living with Russian mafioso scumbags. In the end, you root for Affleck and Woody out of necessity rather than anything else. There’s absolutely no one else to root for.
The biggest disappointment of all this is the career trajectory of director John Hillcoat. ‘The Proposition’ was so damned good I’m still excited to see his films. Unfortunately they’re successively getting worse. Yeah, you can make brutal, harsh, bleak films, but who gives a shit if none of the characters are interesting? I wonder how much of this film was left on the cutting room floor, because at 115 minutes, it’s not that long for today’s standards. For all my tantrums about the ridiculous length of movies nowadays, this is one that would’ve greatly benefited from another 15 minutes focused on character development. And a lot of characters in this type of film isn’t necessarily impossible. Look at ‘Heat’ for example. That film had probably 10 characters you gave actually gave a shit about. And yes, it’s almost an hour longer but 10 compared to zero is significant. Dennis Haysbert was in that movie for about 3 minutes and I STILL gave a shit about him.
The number of characters is significant because the film doesn’t seem to know where to focus. So it ends up jumping around, undercutting character after character. You don’t really know anything about anyone at the end of the movie. Afflecks Chris doesn’t actually do anything in this movie that directly impacts the story. He’s just along for the ride because the audience needs a “good guy”. He’s not even directly involved in the climax of the film! Every minute this guy’s on screen is just a waste of precious screen time. Really, the hero of this movie should have been Woody’s ridiculous burnt out Detective. His nephew can still be the cop with a target on his back, but that’s it. That would’ve helped disguise the ‘Training Day’ similarities too. ‘Triple 9’ is an over-plotted, underdeveloped mess.
Not to completely crap all over ‘Triple 9’, there is one sequence that’s pretty great and unlike any such sequence I’ve seen on film before. It’s the police raid on the drug dealer, which has been done hundreds of times. But the tactics used, with the team in a line behind the shield as they cleared each room was unique and helped give the film some much needed tension. That scene is over all to quickly.
So to wrap up, the remake of ‘Training Day’ is much like this review. A convoluted mish-mash of poorly executed ideas, an unfocused narrative and an all round disappointment.