In Triple 9, a crew of dirty cops is blackmailed by the Russian mob to execute a virtually impossible heist. The only way to pull it off is to manufacture a 999, police code for "officer down". Their plan is turned upside down when the unsuspecting rookie they set up to die foils the attack, triggering a breakneck, action-packed finale filled with double-crosses, greed and revenge.
When it comes to fresh, new, original and creative content, the Australians are killing it right now. Over the last decade, three specific directors – David Michôd ('Animal Kingdom,' 'The Rover'), Andrew Dominik ('The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,' 'Killing Them Softly') and John Hillcoat ('The Road,' 'The Proposition') – have delivered some of the most eye-popping cinematic experiences – not only in story and character, but also in visuals and cinematography.
John Hillcoat returned to cinemas earlier this year with 'Triple 9,' his most expensive and mainstream movie to date. While it came and went highly unnoticed during its theatrical run, it's one of 2016's films that definitely deserves to be watched, studied and enjoyed. Once again, it shows that these three Aussie's are on a role.
'Triple 9' is the type of film that has a very standard façade, but beneath the surface not only lies a social tale, but levels of complexity that rarely make it into mainstream releases. The story follows a group of immoral cops whose dirty dealings have turned them into complete criminals (somewhat) against their own wills. After performing several heists, one of which makes up the wildly intense intro to the film, they believe that they're out of the game – but they're mistaken. With their balls proverbially held in a vice by a Russian mob boss, they're assigned one final heist, one that will be nearly impossible to pull it off. And with life-or-death stakes, their only hope for pulling it off includes putting down a good cop.
Due to the large ensemble cast, the complexities of the film – none of which ever make it hard to follow – kick off with the characters. The leader of the crooked combination of cops is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The Russian mob boss (Kate Winslet) is able to control him like a puppetmaster by using his son, her nephew, as bait. Gal Gadot plays Winslet's sister, the mother of the boy and Ejiofor's ex-lover. Serving as Ejiofor's dark and genuinely evil sidekick is Clifton Collins Jr., an active and full-time lead detective for the local PD. Norman Reedus plays another of the robbers. His brother, Aaron Paul, is a former cop-turned-drug addict who's temporarily on the crew. For this final job, full-time patrolman Anthony Mackie is brought into the group.
The final job entails breaking into a locked-down Homeland Security facility and stealing an unknown item from within an evidence vault. Guarded to the brink, they have no hope of pulling off the time-consuming heist without getting slaughtered by the entire police force before leaving the building. With their backs completely against the wall, the gang decides to distract all local law enforcement on the far end of town by killing a fellow cop, the police code for which is 999 – triple nine.
When Mackie is partnered with an inexperienced and somewhat hot-headed rookie (Casey Affleck) whose antics are bound to get him in trouble on the streets before long, the gang decides that Affleck will be the officer they use to execute their triple nine. Despite the beautiful wife (Teresa Palmer), the young child, and his seasoned long-time detective uncle (Woody Harrelson), they have no problem with putting them down.
Even with a fully-loaded ten person cast, each of the characters is significantly built up. And yet it never feels like a congested character-heavy movie. Although a couple of them only appear in a handful of scenes, they're perfectly executed in a way that gives each a unique persona and purpose. Some are likeable; others are not. But you'll definitely understand each's objectives.
'Triple 9' is an all-around intense film. The complex 'Departed'-esque character dynamic is a major source of tension. Combined with edge-of-your seat action sequences, the tension is non-stop. There aren't tons expected shoot-out moments, but those that exist are so perfectly constructed that they go miles farther than your usual Hollywood scenes of gunplay and stand-offs. One tactical building entry scene is so intense that it's almost too much to sit through. It's truly something to see.
Director John Hillcoat once again delivers with 'Triple 9,' a near-perfect crooked cop drama that deserves much more attention and respect that it received. Don't let the lukewarm Rotten Tomato score and miniscule box office returns deter you from checking out one of 2016's very best.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has placed 'Triple 9' on a BD-50 disc, slapped it in an Elite single-disc keepcase, stuffed it with a code that will redeem both an iTunes and an Ultraviolet HD digital copy, and given it a nice embossed slipcase. Upon inserting the disc into your player, you're bombarded with trailers for 'London Has Fallen,' 'Eye in the Sky,' 'Hardcore Henry,' 'The Boy' and 'Fifty Shades of Black,' all of which are skippable. The static menu isn't the greatest, but at least it's set to the film's great original score.
'Triple 9' features a superb and very fitting 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Although shot with Arri Alexa XT digital cameras, it features a raw and gritty quality that feels more like a grainy '80s cop drama than a polished modern digitally-shot one. The visual characteristics are identical to that of the theatrical presentation, which is an excellent accomplishment considering how cinematic the film looks. There's nothing generic or flat about the visual performance.
Through the grit, finer details are visible. The tighter the shot, the more apparent they are. Close-ups reveal the finest of facial features. During the heist scenes and shootouts, each shot of the actors' faces will reveal the tiniest beads of persperation. The color palette is fairly desaturated, but that doesn't stop the reds from carrying weight. Blood is rich and dark, but the red of dye-pack plumes is wildly vibrant.
Noise, bands and aliasing are never an issue, but the black levels occasionally slip into crushing territory. Many scenes take place in either nighttime settings or very dark settings. For the most part, black levels are consistently natural, but from time to time they falter.
'Triple 9' carries a solitary 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's not lacking in the slightest. The integrity of the mix immediately comes through from the start of the disc. Following the Universal Studios reel and its horn-driven, drum-thumping score – which pounds and blares from all channels – the opening scene kicks off with the isolated sound of thunder. It rumbles and seamlessly images from around the room, occasionally turning into deep cracking. All environmental effects – off-screen highways humming in the distance, sidewalk chatter, background office sounds – receive this treatment. Obvious up-front effects are also equally mixed. Gun play is lively and explosive – but that's not the only way in which the audio adds tension to those scenes. Intentional silence during the breaks in gunfire and shootout scenes raise the anxiety level.
Atticus Ross' score lends itself to the film's tone. In the moments leading up to the score-less action bits, its beats and tones create an unsettling ambiance that signals the unknown danger that ensues. Uniquely mixed to each channel, it dynamically pops and flares around the room.
These qualities combined with the crisp and clear dialog make it a flawless audio mix.
Occasionally, great films come around that ultimately wind up being box office bombs (like 'Edge of Tomorrow'). Falling into that category, 'Triple 9' is no different. Anyone who enjoys complex and intense crime dramas will delight in what John Hillcoat's fantastic film pulls off. With some of the best-directed tactical police situations, complete unpredictability and a large top-notch cast, 'Triple 9' is worlds better than its peers. The video and audio qualities are stellar, but the disc severely lacks special features. That aside, the Blu-ray is still highly recommended. Even if you don't blind buy it, be sure to give it a shot.