Burst­ing with crim­i­nal in­tent

Di­rec­tor John Hill­coat is a mas­ter of ma­cho pos­ture, and he lays it on thick in this in­de­cent;ly thrilling heist movie, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

TRIPLE 9 Di­rected by John Hill­coat. Star­ring Casey Af­fleck, Chi­we­tel Ejio­for, An­thony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Nor­man Ree­dus, Woody Har­rel­son, Kate Winslet. 16 cert, gen re­lease, 115 min What are we to make of John Hill­coat? Well, the Aus­tralian is cer­tainly at home to mas­culin­ity. The im­ages he cre­ated in films such as The Propo­si­tion, The Road and Lawless sug­gested the traces a sweaty fist leaves when wiped across a brow af­ter a bar fight.

The pasti­est mil­que­toast emerges ready to scale oil rigs and wres­tle croc­o­diles. No neg­a­tive crit­i­cism is in­tended. Hill­coat is a heck of a film-maker. Few di­rec­tors since John Mil­lius have painted so el­e­gantly with raw testos­terone. Men are bad. But their bad­ness is guiltily com­pelling.

This ter­rific heist thriller does not find Hill­coat con­nect­ing with his in­ner Anne of Green Gables. Beer cans clat­ter down the film’s rick­ety stair­wells while pit bulls gnaw at its pipes. There is very def­i­nitely a woman in it, but she is more ruth­less, im­moral and ter­ri­fy­ing than any of the male thugs.

Kate Winslet is hav­ing sev­eral whales of a time as a Russo-Jewish gang­ster named (what else?) Irina Vlaslov. Hair lac­quered into a tsunamishaped hel­met, her vow­els rougher than bath­tub vodka, she presses the film into a cor­ner and slaps it cru­elly into whim­per­ing sub­mis­sion. If there is a critic brave enough to call the per­for­mance a tad over­cooked, I’d like to meet her or him. I think she’s do­ing just grand. Can I move on now?

Triple 9 hangs around a crew of bank rob­bers headed by the con­flicted Michael Bel­mont (Chi­we­tel Ejio­for). Matt Cook’s script does at least al­low Michael an ex­cuse for a slide from amoral­ity to im­moral­ity: he longs to pro­tect the child he had by Irina’s sis­ter. The rest are just bad, bad peo­ple.

The ac­tion be­gins with a bank rob­bery in At­lanta that, with­out at­tempt­ing to con­ceal its debt to Michael Mann’s Heat, man­ages to find new ways of play­ing the old, throb­bing melodies. A car chase takes on a sur­real qual­ity when a cash bag bursts to spray red dye through­out the over­pass.

Later, the crew find them­selves black­mailed into steal­ing just one more thing for Irina’s mob. The prob­lem is that the item – a box of com­puter discs – is housed in a su­per-se­cure fa­cil­ity manned by paramil­i­taries. The gang comes up with a scheme: if they kill a cop else­where in the city then, as the po­lice are re­quired to re­spond in force, they will buy them­selves ex­tra time at the heist. The team fin­gers Chris Allen (Casey Af­fleck) as the nec­es­sary sac­ri­fice.

Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Ni­co­las Karakat­sa­nis, who did such good work on The Drop and Bull­head, shoots At­lanta as a fuggy con­fu­sion of mis­match­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and unattrac­tive thor­ough­fares. Triple 9 is sim­i­larly un­sym­pa­thetic to its char­ac­ters. Bel­mont is the clos­est thing to a de­cent man among the crew, but even he ac­cepts the grim plan with rel­a­tively lit­tle protest.

There is, in Hill­coat’s cinema, a sort of brash rel­ish at mas­cu­line mis­be­haviour. One gets no sense that the film ap­proves of the ruth­less lunge for swag, but it does ask us to en­joy be­ing un­nerved by it all.

The film cer­tainly savours its de­pic­tion of the Rus­soJewish mafia (or the “Kosher Nos­tra” as it is glee­fully dubbed). I will leave it to Jewish and Rus­sian read­ers to de­cide if the rep­re­sen­ta­tion is of­fen­sive, but Hill­coat and his team can­not be faulted in their lust for ex­otic new forms of malev­o­lence.

Triple 9 does not have quite enough plot to sus­tain its length and flags a lit­tle in the middle act. Too many sub­sidiary char­ac­ters – Woody Har­rel­son’s good-old-boy cop for one – fail to map out space of their own.

No such quib­bles can, how­ever, squeeze the badtem­pered fun from this armpit of rough en­ter­tain­ment. Yo, Hill­coat. You’re my man.

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