What for almost half of the film seems like an action movie which uses gun fire as an alarm clock eventually evolves into a decent, if not sometimes mindless, action film.
Trigger Warning(s): Decapitated Heads, Gun Wounds, Blood, Death, Drug Use, Torture, and Blown Off Limbs.
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
For the most part, Triple 9 is about family. Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is doing heist jobs so that his son’s aunt Irina (Kate Winslet), a Jewish Russian mob boss, will allow him to see his father. Said heist involve a man named Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.), crooked cop #1, a former cop named Gabe (Aaron Paul), who is brought into doing these heist by his older brother Russell (Norman Reedus), and then there is crooked cop #2 Marcus (Anthony Mackie). Someone who has recently been paired with Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) who is not only a family man but his uncle is Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson).
So, in the end, everyone is just trying to do what is best for their family. Michael wants to see his son again, Irina needs Michael to do these jobs to see her husband, Russell brings his brother on board to help with these heist with a high payout, and Jeffrey just wants to see his nephew live to earn his pension. But, of course, not everyone can get what they want, even if they are a good person, and quite a few don’t get the happy ending they fight so hard for.
Michael K. Williams in Drag: Up until the moment we see Detective Allen meet Sweet Pea (Michael K. Williams), a local drag queen and sex worker, I was bored to the point of perhaps falling asleep. For outside of the occasional gun shot, I found myself hardly caring about what was happening on the screen for everything seemed to be a watered down version of what little I remember from Training Day. However, once I saw Mr. Williams dressed as a woman, an effeminate one who spoke the slang, I was wide awake awaiting for his next appearance. Sadly, though, Sweet Pea has but one scene.
If You Like Violence, This Is For You: While everything is mostly handguns, and the occasional explosive, the amount of gun wounds, Michael blowing people’s limbs up, and us seeing decapitated heads, should fill whatever twisted void you may have for true R-Rated violence.
All Violence and Little Intrigue: Despite various names which have either been nominated for major awards, or even won various accolades, I do feel some dialed it in, and others perhaps just weren’t given a strong enough character to lead you to give a damn. Take Kate Winslet in this film. To me, she dialed it in. As a mob boss she, between what the character was given and her performance, was uninspiring. She was dressed up the way you’d think a Jewish Russian mob boss would be, and her lines fit, but the character was cardboard. I mean, did I hate the things she did, yes, but her reasoning behind it, after building up how many secrets her and her husband knew, just made me wonder why she needed the “monkey,” as she calls him, to help her?
As for everyone else, outside of Williams, I felt like there was nothing to make anyone stand out enough to care. Yes, Michael was struggling to see his son, but it isn’t like we got to see what a great dad he was, learn his dad was absent, or anything like that. The kid was just thrown in for a reason for his actions and that’s it. Then, with Affleck’s character, something about the pairing of him and Mackie just made Training Day pop into my head but without iconic lines or characters that stay with you. For the most part, everyone played their role how you expected and did just enough so that you couldn’t zone in on them as the reason the movie feels lackluster.
Connecting the Dots: Naturally, with any movie dealing with groups, partners, and what have you, there is a weak link which leads to someone connecting the dots and putting the pieces together. Now, Detective Allen does this and while it is expected, it comes a little too easy for him. Leading to another moment, similar to Irina, in which they build up the background of characters, in this case, Michael among his team having this military and cop careers, and yet in an instant that not mattering for the convenience of the movie progressing.
Final Thought(s): Skip It
Outside of Michael K. Williams, everything about this film is largely forgettable. The would-be big name actors play their roles as you have seen them in other crooked cop/ heist films; the plot dealing with Michael trying to see his son, Irina wanting to free her husband, and etc., are weak, shallow, and developed only enough so that you get some sense of why all the violence occurs; and, lastly, there isn’t much of a reward for staying until the end. Reason being, the ending isn’t satisfying, happy, or anything which can perhaps finally incite some sort of emotion. It is simply the end and you welcome the credits for it lets you know the disappointment is finally over.