They conclude the only way to make it happen is to manufacture an officer down '999' call to give them the distraction they need in order to pull off the robbery, but things don't go to plan (do they ever?) when the newest cop on the force starts poking around and uncovering the scheme.
It's white-knuckle stuff for the most part and staggeringly violent, at times, but it's not all a success.
The best thing the film has going for it is Hillcoat. There's a taught efficiency to his direction. He's confident with the material and it shows. He's just as interested in the dealing of the gang on either side of their criminal activities as he is with the activities themselves.
They are far from the vague outlines we are so used to seeing in pictures of this ilk.
These guys are precision, laser-cut professionals operating on either side of the law.
They are defined as much from their behavior during the robberies as they are in the quieter more intimate moments. Character through action, not schmaltz.
Aided by Atticus Ross' pulsing, driving score there's a frenetic immediacy to the film.
Dual loyalties and shifting allegiances mean we're never sure who we're aligned with at any time which leaves us with a genuinely unpredictable finale.
When it comes to the action sequences they are some of the best we've seen since Michael Mann took downtown LA in '95 and that's mostly thanks to the character work. When they come they are impressively mounted, oozing legitimacy and a gritty verisimilitude. Scribe Matt Cook has done his homework on the dos-and-don't of police procedure in the field and Hillcoat plays it for what it's worth without making the film boastful and showy in its more bombastic moments.
In the quieter scenes the decidedly impressive A-List cast give it everything they got, which, sadly isn't much, and therein lies the films biggest gripe; there's very little room for character movement with all the chest-beating and cocky gum-chewing.
Those with Oscar-winning capabilities are largely reduced to one-note portrayals of cops or criminals but it's worth watching actors like this give it 100% even if the material only rates 80%, and even still, you can't help but feel you're being short-changed.
Casey Affleck, as Chris Allen, is a powder-keg of restrained explosiveness, gradually piecing it all together with the aid of his uncle, Jeffery (Woody Harrelson). One can't help but feel, however, that Kate Winslet is wasted in her three scenes as the matriarch of the Jewish 'Kosher Nostra' and Norman Reedus has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him extended cameo at the beginning. Shame.
We've seen it all before, sure, but rarely with this level of intelligence and certainly not with this caliber of cast.
As it stands, TRIPLE 9 is a good film but with another 20-minutes of character development across the board (that was probably left on the cutting room floor) reinstated, it could have been a great film.