The 400-Word Review: Triple 9

By Sean Collier

March 7, 2016

Wait, your brother is Batman?

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Less-inventive heist movies often face a crisis in the protagonist/antagonist dynamic. It’s easy to understand the concept of the antihero, but a poorly-structured crime movie — think the dismal remake of The Italian Job — will simply sub villain for hero, leaving the viewer at a loss. Do we root for the bad guys to succeed, simply because we’re watching them? Are we waiting to see how the criminal plan will be undone?

Often, the answer is that the audience has no rooting interest, which makes a tough road. But in a smarter crime film, like John Hillcoat’s enjoyable Triple 9, shades of grey permeate both sides of the coin, allowing noble and unsavory characters to arise — independent of their strict good guy/bad guy alignment.

It’s a film (perhaps overly) reliant on twists and reveals, so I can’t report on much of the plot without spoiling most of the film’s key moments. Triple 9 opens as a crew of highly disciplined thieves robs an Atlanta bank in pursuit of the contents of one lockbox; in short order, we learn who they’re working for and which law enforcement elements will be set against them.


The biggest reason to seek out Triple 9 is its stacked cast. Casey Affleck, as an idealistic young detective, is the standout (as he usually is), though Kate Winslet’s Russian mafioso/femme fatale is worthy of as much praise. Woody Harrelson appears as a cop with a drinking problem; the fact that such a role is right in his wheelhouse in no way diminishes how gleefully and expertly he inhabits it. None of the players are anything but razor-sharp and engaging; Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Anthony Mackie, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins, Jr., Michael Kenneth Williams and Michelle Ang all distinguish themselves. (One of the film’s significant disappointments is the short shrift given to Gal Gadot and Teresa Palmer, both appearing in badly underwritten and sadly ornamental roles.)

Triple 9 is a film that doesn’t try too hard, content to be an engaging and breezy action flick. That raises it above plenty of similar projects that overreach and flounder; on the other hand, it must be said that the film ultimately may not be as memorable for its story as it will for its cast. It’s unlikely to top any best-of lists at the end of the year, but few will regret buying a ticket.

My Rating: 7/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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