In moviemaking, there are almost no guarantees for success, no matter how much you stack the deck. You can hire many of the best people, but if one of the cogs in the machine doesn’t work the way it should, the whole thing fails, through no fault of the other parts.
A fine example of the tenuous nature of filmmaking is Triple 9, a crime drama that appears to have everything going for it — only to wind up a complete and utter mess. Directed by John Hillcoat, it joins the legions of films before it that blur the lines between good and bad, cop and criminal.
The film ostensibly centers on a group of five robbers (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, and Clifton Collins Jr.) who open the film robbing a bank at the behest of Russian mobster Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet). Among that group of five are a couple of cops, a thread that leads to interaction and conflict with two supposedly honest cops, brothers Chris and Jeffrey Allen (Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson).
It’s so packed to the gills with recognizable actors that it appears Hillcoat and screenwriter Matt Cook felt the need to highlight all of them, a technique that ends up doing none of them any good. Instead of just focusing on the crimes the thieves want to commit and the cops who want to stop them, Hillcoat and Cook pile on subplot after subplot, leaving the audience unsure as to what in the bloody hell is going on.
The second half of the film is particularly bad, as the film checks in with every character seemingly every few seconds — a choppy, disorienting experience that further discombobulates an already confusing plot. Plot lines are wrapped up randomly or not at all, almost as if the editor was haphazardly cutting scenes together.
With so many big stars in the same movie, you have to think that they all saw something in the script that made them want to commit. So one can only assume that mistakes were made in the shooting or the editing. Whatever it was, it makes the movie almost unwatchable, which is a shock considering the quality of the actors.
Triple 9 — which, if you must know, is the police code for an officer injured in the line of duty — appeared to have all the elements to compare with crime classics like Heat or The Departed. But it never comes close.