In “Triple 9,” there are dirty cops, really dirty cops and then some cops who are merely somewhat soiled.
As for the villains, they’re corrupt, thieving, murderous scum who would put a bullet in a colleague just for the sheer ornery heck of it, especially if doing so would further their corrupt, thieving schemes.
Oh. Wait. Those villains are the cops.
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That’s some appetizing picture of the guardians of public safety that director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Matt Cook have painted in “Triple 9.” We’re talking a sky-high level of grimness in this action thriller set in Atlanta.
The title refers to a police code designating “officer down.” When it comes over the radio, it brings officers from all over to the scene to aid the fallen cop and to try to catch the perpetrator. Which provides a perfect cover for the villains to knock off a high-security target with little worry they would be interfered with by the forces of law and order.
Ingenious. And despicable, if the fallen officer has been gunned down by one of his colleagues.
To be fair, some of the bad guys are former special-operations soldiers gone rogue who are mobbed up with the crooked cops.
And all are working for Israeli-Russian mafiosi who are ... well, there’s villainy in “Triple 9” and then there’s the bone-deep, soul-freezing evil personified by the boss lady of the mafia. She’s played by Kate Winslet, virtually unrecognizable with a blond dye job, ice-cold basilisk stare and the cuddly manner of a Borgia poisoner. Compared to her, the bad guys (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr. and Norman Reedus), are minor leaguers in the picture’s panoply of diabolical wickedness.
There is actually a good-guy cop in the mix, played by Casey Affleck. Naturally, being good, he’s the one marked for death. Nice, guys.
Hillcoat, an Australian whose “The Proposition” is a classic, and wholly pitiless, Outback Western, certainly knows how to stage gunbattles and car chases (one of which morphs into gunbattle). He’s an expert in creating and sustaining gut-twisting tension. Good qualities all, but used here in the service of a story that is truly unappetizing.
☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson.
Director: John Hillcoat.
Running time: 1:55.
Rated: R, for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity.