When John Hillcoat appeared on our radar with The Proposition, having already directed a number of lesser known films and shorts, it heralded the rise of a grand auteur. A man of substance, with a distinct style and vision. When it was announced his latest, Triple 9, would be a bank heist film, there were mixed feelings online, moans and groans about the Australian going all Hollywood on us. Auteur status gone? Unless of course he did a Michael Mann and gave us a modern day Heat.

The cast was revealed. A huge cast, driven by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie and Casey Affleck. Kate Winslet as a Russian mob wife however, and Aaron Paul doing, well, anything piqued interest even more so.

The plot is simple. The good cops are bad and the bad cops are in deep with a demanding mob boss (Winslet). A distraction is needed to carry out said heist and slow down police response time. They need a 999, police code for an officer down, and so young aspirational Officer Allen (Casey Affleck) provides the mark.

For the amount of time he’s in it, Affleck is good here, confident, assured and capable but he’s the victim, the sheep, and this is a film full of wolves. So who are the wolves? Chietwel plays Tompkins, the tough unblinking resilient leader. The characters of Mackie, Paul, Norman Reedus and Clifton Collins Jr his charges. Hillcoat swings them into action very early on and there’s little let-up for the duration. It’s at times exciting, tense and slick looking film. Suitably dark and chaotic as one would expect from Hillcoat. The ganglands look the real deal and the action/violence is the typically gritty stuff we would demand of LA crime capers.

But it’s flaws become all too evident. There is no standard lead role per say. The film is choked with too many big name performers leaving back stories lacking, characterization sparse and as a result some roles are just there to fill in the plot gaps, maybe provide a scene or two of emotional support etc. Woody Harrelson (as Affleck’s police chief and father in law) and Teresa Palmer (as Affleck’s wife) are wasted here, phoning in their performances

Some would say that removed from the careful close character examination of The Proposition and The Road, Hillcoat has not matched these earlier films with Lawless and Triple 9, giving himself too many mouths to feed in these latter features. And that would probably be a fair assessment. Triple 9 is tough and exciting but it feels hollow, half realised. Everything is set out nicely – a solid premise, a good script, stark cinematography, all spot on, but the men and women at the epicentre are shells, ghosts, in a way.

On general release now.

 

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