TRIPLE 9. Exquisite, realistic, graphic and violent thriller
… – first a western, the fatalistic The Proposition, which marked the successful start of his career, then a post-apocalyptic film, The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen, and finally, brutal gangster cinema in the form of the prohibition-era tale… Lawless. Perhaps the only thing missing from his perfect portfolio was a gritty police thriller. Triple 9 fills that gap.
The titular Triple 9, a code within the police force, signifies the killing of an officer. Officers respond differently to such calls than to regular notifications, as each of them wants to catch the murderer of their colleague. This, in turn, provides an opportunity to carry out a perfect heist in another part of the city without the fear of patrol cars arriving too quickly. Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his corrupt cop accomplices (Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins Jr.) plan to use this strategy. Their goal is to obtain documents needed by the Russian-Jewish mafia boss, Irina (Kate Winslet), to free her husband from prison. The chosen scapegoat is Chris (Casey Affleck), a rookie officer and incidentally the nephew of a sergeant (Woody Harrelson).
Contrary to what a cursory plot description may suggest, Triple 9 is not about police officers teetering on the line between good and evil. At the starting point, members of Michael’s team are already deeply immersed in the muck, with most of them not even bothering to ask questions about the moral aspects of the operation. The horrors the characters commit would shame the titular bad lieutenant from films by Abel Ferrara and Werner Herzog.
However, it’s not just about realism in terms of shootouts and chases or the somewhat rough, dirty cinematography. It’s about a pathological attachment to details that build the credibility of the characters – both the main ones and those appearing in only a few scenes. In Triple 9, addicts look as if they crawled out of a sewer, the faces of Mexican cartel thugs genuinely resemble those from police files, and strippers from a seedy club don’t reveal, as in Hollywood films, the bodies of Victoria’s Secret models; they are in their forties, have cellulite, and breasts from a garage surgeon’s scalpel. The care for the integrity of the world is also evident in the way the actors are directed. Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson, playing representatives of two generations of the same family, have similar facial expressions and modulate their voices similarly; in short, they look as if the same blood truly runs in their veins. Unfortunately, the sense of realism is somewhat disrupted by Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Irina. Dressed in the fashion of Russian style, the mafia empress, running a factory called Kosher Meat, mainly overseeing torture and issuing orders to her henchmen, resembles a character from an exceptionally strange adult cartoon. Or from a Robert Rodriguez film.
However, Irina’s character, torn from a different order, does not overshadow what is most interesting in Triple 9 – the exceptionally original combination of brutality and grime with values more characteristic of gangster cinema, such as The Godfather. Although the morality of most characters is permanently disabled (making it difficult to root for them), their imperative is the desire to protect their families. Michael fights for the life of a son he unfortunately fathered with Irina’s sister (Gal Gadot); the drunk sergeant tries to save his nephew from the plans of corrupt colleagues; the mafia boss, in turn, attempts to extract her husband from a Russian prison.
We are dealing with characters who behave worse than Joe Pesci in Casino, but they are driven by goals that Don Corleone would approve of. And because Hillcoat skillfully plays with the tension between these orders, the minor flaws of Triple 9 quickly become insignificant.