Mood and masculinity infiltrate John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 and it suffers for it. Women are evil, or stupid, or prostitutes. Men are revered for ambiguous moral codes. Style outmanoeuvres narrative clarity. Character tics suffocate character development. These aren’t new concepts for Hillcoat, who has been succeeding and falling short in the same ways since the film that propelled him to international awareness, The Proposition. His films obsess over a hyper-masculinity that doesn’t reflect realness. Triple 9 has a lot in common with some of Michael Mann’s best films, but there’s an oppressive moodiness that depletes any sense of fun.
Triple 9 needs a central figure but is without one. A central figure would have given the film a sense of purpose and direction. The cast that Hillcoat has gathered is impressive and the characters they inhabit flamboyant but Hillcoat hasn’t the resolve to handle each one coherently. Relationships are ambiguous but not intentionally so, as are motivations. The film is about a group of corrupt policemen and criminals engaging in heists, some against their will, but the reasoning behind the series of heists is so poorly conveyed that it’s almost impossible to entirely comprehend the men or the heists or the figures responsible for manipulating the men into doing the heists. There’s very little to care about in Triple 9.
Yet considering how chaotic Triple 9 feels, the core of the narrative is remarkably bland. Beyond Hillcoat’s directorial flourishes, there’s little to distinguish Triple 9 from any other uninspired crime thriller. The Russian mafia are involved and they’re handled lifelessly. Kate Winslet is an engaging performer. It’s dismaying to watch her play such a stereotype. Hillcoat’s grasp of police corruption is similarly dull. The term ‘Triple 9’ refers to the call that goes out when an officer is shot. Beyond natural hesitance, there’s nothing in Triple 9 regarding how a corrupt policeman might feel about being responsible for the death of an ethical policeman.
There are individual scenes in Triple 9 that engage, barely. A police raid on a series of commission flats is well handled but within the context of an otherwise disjointed film, that’s not enough to sustain interest. The performances, from a bewilderingly strong cast, are heartfelt but let down by lack of clarity. Why do characters in a film do the things they do? It’s an important thing for a film to convey. If Hillcoat knows what his characters are doing, he’s not letting on. Perhaps there’s just too many characters, and too much going on. Whatever it may be, for a film with a lot of yelling and a lot of shooting, Triple 9 is just boring.