David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei

Triple 9 (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease Gods of Egypt (M) Na­tional re­lease

John Hill­coat and Alex Proyas made their first fea­ture films in Aus­tralia in 1988. Both de­buts roughly could be de­scribed as ex­per­i­men­tal: Hill­coat’s Ghosts … of the Civil Dead was a harsh, un­set­tling prison pic­ture with a cast that in­cluded Nick Cave, while Proyas’s Spir­its of the Air, Grem­lins of the Clouds was a dystopian tale in which a brother and sis­ter were stranded in the desert. (Proyas, who stud­ied at the Aus­tralian Film, Tele­vi­sion and Ra­dio School, pre­vi­ously had pro­voked con­tro­versy with his award-win­ning 1980 short film Grop­ing.)

Queens­land-born Hill­coat went on to part­ner with Cave on Aus­tralian western The Propo­si­tion (2005) be­fore head­ing for Hol­ly­wood and mak­ing the film ver­sion of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2009) and the vi­o­lent pro­hi­bi­tion-era back­woods thriller Lawless (2012). Vi­o­lence seems to be in his cin­e­matic DNA be­cause his lat­est film, Triple 9, is a thriller about crooked cops that pulls few punches in the vi­o­lence depart­ment (though not match­ing The Propo­si­tion’s propen­sity for gore).

The set­ting is At­lanta where, ac­cord­ing to Matt Cook’s lurid screen­play, or­gan­ised crime is con­trolled by a Rus­sian-Jewish fam­ily. Pa­tri­arch Vas­sili (Igor Ko­mar) is in prison and his ruth­less and pow­er­ful wife, Irina (Kate Winslet, giv­ing a com­mend­ably campy per­for­mance), will stop at noth­ing to re­trieve the ev­i­dence be­ing held against him. This she sets out to achieve thanks to her in­flu­ence over a gang of crooked cops led by Michael (Chi­we­tel Ejio­for) who is mar­ried to Irina’s sis­ter, Elena (Gal Gadot) and is the father of her young nephew. Michael’s crew con­sists of the ruth­less Franco (Clifton Collins Jr), the con­flicted Mar­cus (An­thony Mackie) and a cou­ple of lowlifes, Gabe (Aaron Paul) and Rus­sell (Nor­man Ree­dus).

The rob­bery takes place in a bank where the tar­get is a strongbox and it goes off pretty suc­cess­fully: the in­crim­i­nat­ing doc­u­ments are re­trieved along with a sack full of money that ex­plodes with red dye when the crims at­tempt to open it. (Later, Mar­cus re­ports for a briefing ses­sion at po­lice head­quar­ters try­ing to hide the red dye on his jeans.) This suc­cess doesn’t sat­isfy Irina, how­ever, who de­mands a se­cond heist and the re­trieval of even more closely guarded ev­i­dence. Mean­while an hon­est cop (an At­lanta rar­ity, it seems) is as­signed as the part­ner of Mar­cus; this is Chris (Casey Af­fleck), whose men­tor is vet­eran Jef­frey Allen (Woody Har­rel­son), a good cop de­spite his scruffy de­meanour and his fond­ness for mar­i­juana. The above makes the plot sound more ac­ces­si­ble than it is on screen. Hill­coat and screen­writer Cook don’t seem in­ter­ested in co­her­ent sto­ry­telling, a cre­ative de­ci­sion not helped by the of­ten in­com­pre­hen­si­ble di­a­logue and fren­zied, hand­held pho­tog­ra­phy. As if this weren’t alien­at­ing enough, most of the char­ac­ters, even the sup­pos­edly lik­able ones, are dif­fi­cult to em­brace.

That said, Hill­coat pulls off some ex­cel­lent sus­pense se­quences: a po­lice as­sault on a run­down res­i­den­tial build­ing is ef­fec­tive, as are some later scenes in which Chris be­gins to won­der just who among his col­leagues he can re­ally trust. There are shoot­ings ga­lore, ex­plo­sions, a car pileup on a free­way: all the el­e­ments of this sort of crime film. But hopes that Hill­coat may find a fresh way to tell this fa­mil­iar story, as Cana­dian di­rec­tor De­nis Villeneuve did last year with the ex­cel­lent Si­cario, grad­u­ally are dashed as the over­long movie un­folds.

Women don’t fare very well in the

film. Apart from Winslet’s homi­ci­dal ma­tri­arch and Gadot’s sex­pot sis­ter, there are only Teresa Palmer as Chris’s wife, Michelle, and Michelle Ang as Trina, a po­lice­woman, and nei­ther has a great deal to do. This is a boys’ movie, a cin­e­matic video game, full of sound and fury, but in the end amount­ing to dis­ap­point­ingly lit­tle. Proyas was born in 1961 in Egypt of Greek par­ents but moved to Aus­tralia as a small child. Af­ter Spir­its of the Air, he quickly found work in Hol­ly­wood di­rect­ing The Crow in 1994 but re­turned to Aus­tralia to make the in­flu­en­tial Dark City (1998) and the en­ter­tain­ing, un­der­rated mu­si­cal Garage Days (2002).

He made Gods of Egypt in Aus­tralia, too, giv­ing work to a great many ac­tors, tech­ni­cians and crew in the process. The film was crit­i­cised in the US be­fore its re­lease for cast­ing white ac­tors in­stead of Arabs in the lead­ing roles, but that’s not its main prob­lem.

The open­ing shot is a stun­ner, as the cam­era floats over the pyra­mids and palaces of an­cient Egypt to set­tle even­tu­ally in a crowded street where Bek and his girl­friend Zaya (played by Aus­tralian ac­tors Bren­ton Th­waites and Court­ney Ea­ton) are hur­ry­ing to at­tend the hand­in­gover of power from King Osiris (Bryan Brown) to his son, Ho­rus (Niko­laj Coster-Wal­dau). The cer­e­mony is rudely in­ter­rupted by the ar­rival of Osiris’s das­tardly brother, Set (Ger­ard But­ler), who kills his sib­ling, blinds his nephew and takes power over the king­dom.

Per­haps I should men­tion here that the royal char­ac­ters in the film are all gods with mag­i­cal pow­ers; they are eas­ily recog­nised be­cause they’re gi­ants com­pared with the mere mor­tals, but their squab­bles are numb­ingly fa­mil­iar.

Proyas is, we know, a skilled film­maker, but on this film he’s work­ing with a ter­ri­ble screen­play by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharp­less, and he seems to have sur­ren­dered en­tirely to the lure of com­puter-gen­er­ated ef­fects. Ev­ery shot in the film looks phony and even though some of the CGI is un­de­ni­ably spec­tac­u­lar, it all re­duces the film’s char­ac­ters, gods and hu­mans alike, to pup­pets we care noth­ing about.

There are some un­de­ni­ably rich mo­ments. Ge­of­frey Rush crops up from time to time as the bald sun god, Ra, whose role seems to be to do bat­tle ev­ery night against a gi­ant cloud with teeth and who man­ages to lend a cer­tain dis­tinc­tion to lines like: “It’s not worth the papyrus it’s writ­ten on.” Robyn Nevin makes a very brief ap­pear­ance as an el­derly woman con­demned by a panel of judges — in­clud­ing a heav­ily dis­guised yet eas­ily recog­nis­able Bruce Spence — and af­ter be­ing con­victed, ex­plodes.

But th­ese mi­nor plea­sures can’t com­pen­sate for the dis­ap­point­ment of a film that bor­rows so heav­ily from other, bet­ter, films: there are bits of In­di­ana Jones, Star Wars, Trans­form­ers, Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble and The Ten Com­mand­ments, but the weak nar­ra­tive and weaker di­a­logue with its limp jokes re­main a mill­stone around the neck of Proyas’s at­tempts at vis­ual ex­cite­ment.

“Isn’t this a bit ex­ces­sive?” won­ders one of the fe­male char­ac­ters, and you have to agree.

is on leave.

Aside from some ex­cel­lent sus­pense se­quences, Triple 9, left, is a dis­ap­point­ment; below, Ger­ard But­ler in the numb­ingly fa­mil­iar Gods of Egypt

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