Following the strict instructions from his tyrannical sister-in-law Irene (Kate Winslet), criminal Terrell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) rounds up a group of likeminded mercenaries such as brothers Gabe (Aaron Paul) and Russel Welch (Norman Reedus) and corrupt cops Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.), working from the inside. The heist they’ve been tasked with undertaking is something of a monumental challenge – and so in a bid to divert the police and pave the way for them, they decide to kill a cop – and the new man on the force Chris (Casey Affleck) seems like the perfect victim – not to mention the fact his uncle Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) is heading up the case, so if they can remove him for a while, things may just become that little bit easier.
While watching Paul’s Gabe fervently scrub the red dye off his hands that exploded out of a bag of money taken from an initial bank robbery, or how it remains on the end of Marcus’ trousers – or when we see a butcher routinely sweep blood from the animal corpses down the drainpipe – it’s all emblematic of a feature where it seems everybody has blood on their hands, as the line between who you can and can’t trust is an immensely blurry one. The intention for this to be the case is most evident in the casting of Harrelson as a perceived good guy. Though the detective, a supposedly dependable, trustworthy figure amongst this merry band of nefarious criminals – his very presence suggests otherwise, as there’s such a volatility to this enigmatic performer, and an unpredictable streak that ensures we never quite know where we stand.
Harrelson is one of many exceptional actors to join this extraordinary ensemble cast – making it an added shame they’ve turned out in a film so unexceptional and distinctively ordinary. A generic thriller that abides frustratingly by the tropes of the genre at hand, while never transcending the genre limitations. Such an approach can be comforting at times, to indulge in something that plays out just as we had expected it to – but when dealing with a cast of this magnitude it’s impossible not to expect so much more.
Many of the actors that do star in Triple 9 are famed primarily for their work on the smaller screen too, or have at least starred in a widely celebrated drama series. From Paul (Breaking Bad) to Reedus (The Walking Dead), or from Harrelson (True Detective) to Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire), so it’s hardly surprising that this picture feels like an elongated episode of a series rather than a standalone movie. Though had it been as accomplished or entertaining as any of the aforementioned TV series, we wouldn’t be complaining.