Triple 9 is a throwback to a different time. It’s the gritty kind of crime movie that seems to have been pushed out of the spotlight by slicker movies like the Fast & Furious franchise and by a run of bizarrely gritty cop films like End of Watch. Triple 9 feels more like a Training Day when it’s working and a bit like Smokin’ Aces when it isn’t. Triple 9 has a relentlessly tense script and a talented enough cast to round out a lot of the rough edges. The throwback element that didn’t work for me is that Triple 9 is an alarmingly racist movie. It’s also a very misogynistic movie, but it’s much harder to get to an alarming level with that what with the rest of pop culture.
Every non-white character in Triple 9 that has a name I remember six hours after walking out of the theater was a bad person. It’s a movie about corrupt cops that rob banks so there’s a fair amount of moral ambiguity expected, but it becomes a little much. Every Mexican character is evil and almost all of them are tattooed gang members who hang around in packs and menace the decent people of the world. The most telling thing is that the white people in Triple 9 are universally morally superior. Casey Affleck is the good cop, Woody Harrelson fights his demons but gets the bad guys, and Aaron Paul is the bank robber who’s conscience gets in the way and stops him from doing the really bad things. The exception is Kate Winslet as the ruthless mob boss but they go so far out of their way to establish that she’s the head of a Jewish mob that it still feels a little slimy.
Triple 9 is also relentless in objectifying women. With the exception of Winslet and Michelle Ang every actress in the movie is either a sex object, set dressing, or both. This is in the grand tradition of gritty crime films going back to the golden age of cinema: this is a movie about men and their masculine struggles. There are dozens of moments in the movie that come back to this but the one that stood out to me was when Teresa Palmer comforts Affleck when he’s struggling with his police work she walks away to reveal she was bottomless so we get a look at her butt. It didn’t reveal anything about her character or add anything to the script— it just seemed to indicate that the filmmakers thought so little of me as a viewer that I needed some naked flesh to draw me back in after two minutes of talking with no gunshots or explosions.
I’ve spent two paragraphs talking about some serious, constantly distracting, issues I had with Triple 9 but it was also an outstanding crime caper film. I was consistently on the edge of my seat, and that isn’t a phrase I like using but I was literally sitting forward in my chair a lot of the time. I am usually pretty good at seeing twists coming particularly in heist films and I was genuinely surprised at some of the turns they threw out in Triple 9. The main characters were deep and complex and the acting was incredible, particularly from perpetually underrated treasure Chiwetel Ejiofor. In another time this could have been a big summer blockbuster and with a slightly less weird script we might even be talking award nominations, but that time is gone— this isn’t the kind of movie people want anymore and it just feels so antiquated even with all the sleek filmmaking.