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Arts & Culture

Crime Thriller 'Triple 9' Moves To A Tense Beat

Anthony Mackie and Casey Affleck play cops who are not thrilled to be working together in the gritty thriller, "Triple 9."
Open Road Films
Anthony Mackie and Casey Affleck play cops who are not thrilled to be working together in the gritty thriller, "Triple 9."

'Triple 9' creates great atmosphere but falls short of great drama

Film Review: 'Triple 9'
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews 'Triple 9' and speaks with composer Atticus Ross.

The new film Triple 9 serves up a gritty crime thriller. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando speaks with Nine Inch Nails’ Atticus Ross about the role music should play in a movie. Triple 9 looks to a messy alignment of crooks, corrupt cops, and the Russian mob. Into this world is thrown Chris Allen an idealistic cop. CLIP I want to make a difference… What he doesn’t realize is that he’s about to be made an unwitting and unknowing part of heist. The film is directed by John Hillcoat who has traversed similarly messy and unpleasant moral terrain in films such as The Proposition. For Triple 9 he gets creative support from composer Atticus Ross. ATTICUS ROSS The goal is to be part of the DNA of the film and that the director understands how powerful music can be and that it can be a character in the film. The only way I can describe it is as part of the foundation, the DNA of the film. Hillcoat didn’t want anything slick or polished for his gritty thriller and Ross delivers a score that supports the films raw quality and lack of a moral compass. The film, especially with Ross’ score driving the tension, is rich with atmosphere and style. Unfortunately, the script can’t quite pull all the elements into a cohesive whole. It’s a compelling and disturbing tale but it falls short of Hillcoat’s best work. Beth Accomando KPBS News.

Companion viewing

"Training Day" (2001)

""Dark Blue" (2002)

"The Proposition" (2006)

The new film "Triple 9" (opened Feb. 26 throughout San Diego) serves up a gritty crime thriller with a score by Nine Inch Nails' Atticus Ross.

"Triple 9" looks to a messy alignment of crooks, corrupt cops and the Russian mob. The title refers to a police code for when an officer is down. The reaction to calling such a code figures disturbingly into a heist being planned.

Into this morally ambiguous world is thrown Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), an idealistic cop who announces that he just wants to "make a difference."

What he doesn’t realize is that he’s about to be made an unwitting and unknowing part of the heist that Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is planning in order to keep Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), the temporary head of a Russian mob while her hubby is out of commission, off his back. He's trying to maintain visitation rights to the young son he had with Irina's sister (Gal Gadot, the new Wonder Woman).

Atwood is partnering with corrupt cops Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.).

The film is directed by John Hillcoat who has traversed similarly messy and unpleasant moral terrain in films such as "The Proposition" and "Lawless." He's good at creating worlds that feel real and a bit grimy. He's also good at getting rough-edged performances from his cast. "Triple 9" is no exception with Ejiofer, Mackie, Collins. Jr. and Winslet delivering the goods.

Kate Winslet (center) plays a woman who ruthlessly runs a Russian mob in her husband's absence in "Triple 9."
Open Road Films
Kate Winslet (center) plays a woman who ruthlessly runs a Russian mob in her husband's absence in "Triple 9."

Although I'm not sure if Winslet's performance is a credit to her or to her costume and hair.

Hillcoat also gets creative support from composer Atticus Ross. Hillcoat has partnered closely with musician Nick Cave (with great success on "The Proposition") of music videos and films so he seems to have an effective means of communicating with composers.

Atticus Ross agreed and liked working with Hillcoat, who understood the musician's approach.

"The goal is to be part of the DNA of the film and that the director understands how powerful music can be and that it can be a character in the film," Hillcoat said. "The only way I can describe it is as part of the foundation, the DNA of the film."

Hillcoat didn’t want anything slick or polished for his gritty thriller and Ross delivers a score that supports the film's raw quality and lack of a moral compass. The film, especially with Ross’ score driving the tension, is rich with atmosphere and style.

Unfortunately, the script by Matt Cook can’t quite pull all the elements into a cohesive whole. Affleck's character of Chris feels particularly vague.

The film serves up a compelling and disturbing tale but it falls short of Hillcoat’s best work, "The Proposition." But I admire it for sticking to its bleak outlook and not pulling any punches.