The film is yet another colossal ensemble piece where every player is an established name. The poster alone boasts a headlining cast of Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrrelson and Kate Winslet. However the talent ignored by the poster includes, Clifton Collins Jr, Teresa Palmer, Norman Reedus and Michael Kenneth Williams amongst others. It proves to be a conspicuous cluster of talent that threatens to distract and derail what is otherwise a intriguing, albeit convoluted, narrative.
Affleck and Winslet tender the stand-out performances in my mind. He offers a stoic and understated turn that is focused and unadulterated, while she brings a chilling menace to the screen that flouts conventions. Winslet has really stepped it up a notch in the last year with a slew of performances that trade foreign accents in a way that only Meryl Streep knows how.
The rest of the cast are good too, although in varying degrees. Ejiofor and Mackie are rock-solid as the robbery crew-leaders and Aaron Paul falls back upon is BREAKING BAD skills to channel a grittier, more washed-up version of his old Jesse Pinkman character. The least effective performances come from Collins Jr and Harrelson. Collins feels miscast and Harrelson's character is poorly written. He fits right into the genre stereotype of the slobbish burned-out detective, and with every scene featuring a different American Flag neck tie (not to mention some whacked out ye-har, gun-toting sentiments), you can't help but think that the writers used him as some sort of political statement. A little more restraint would have gone a long way.
TRIPLE 9 is a technically accomplished film. The lighting design is fantastic with its dank red colours seeping throughout the film like the strained blood vessels of an eyeball. Shadows constantly threaten to conceal the characters, but are withdrawn with precision at all the right moments. Adding to the bleak atmosphere is a strong and consistent score from Atticus Ross that blends with the story seamlessly.
Where the film falters is in its confusing and cumbersome structure. The overall story arc is easy to follow, however some of the important developments require immediate reflection so to catch up with the plot. That is to say that much of the story moves faster than the audience may be capable of following - but of course that might be my own aspersion.
Nevertheless the film is a welcome departure for Australian director John Hillcoat, whose previous films include; LAWLESS, THE ROAD and THE PROPOSITION. He reaffirms his flare for atmospheric filmmaking and proves to be a skilled action director, but with a bloated cast of players and an unnecessarily complex script TRIPLE 9 misses the mark ever-so-slightly. It could have been his masterpiece. It could have been his HEAT.