Meet this group of corrupt cops in Atlanta, Georgia. You’ll love them. They're very diverse, and Jesse Pinkman is among them. They do “jobs” for a Jewish-Russian crime syndicate—things like robbing banks, stealing government information, etc. They’re damn good at what they do because most of them are military veterans. Their employers—the syndicate, not the Atlanta Police Department—are a bunch of fuckin’ assholes though. Despite the squad’s top-notch work, their money is regularly withheld. New, more difficult “jobs” are mandated before any payout. These cops, they’re ultimately terrible guys, but we relate to them. They’re like working-class criminals and their arc is compelling.
Next, meet Chris Allen, played by Casey Affleck. He’s a cop who's new to the rougher side of Atlanta. He’s pretty legit though. He takes his job seriously and begins to hit walls as he unknowingly interferes with the operations of the corrupt officers mentioned above.
Meet Jeffrey Allen, played by Woody Harrelson. He’s Chris’s uncle, also a cop. A seasoned vet. He has his vices, yes, and he’s a massive cynic, but he’s also pretty serious about upholding the law. He dispenses gritty sage wisdom like he gets paid extra for it.
Now imagine a bunch of very tense, violent conflict between all these characters. It’s cooler than I’m making it sound. I promise. Just know that Triple 9 is fast-paced, violent, lewd, and generally out of control.
Triple 9 also offers a lot in the way of aesthetic. The story is interesting, sure, but what really brings the movie to life is the atmospheric stuff. Notice the bright fuchsia-and-chartreuse color motif that repeats throughout the movie. Notice how much the city of Atlanta is a character. Notice the weird tidbits, like Woody Harrelson sporting a werewolf mask in his office, under dim neon lights.
Artistically the movie is sharp. Story-wise, it’s like cut-rate George V. Higgins (which isn’t a bad thing at all). Also, on the note of George V. Higgins, the film contains an amazing bank robbery scene in which the recurring color motif calls to mind the bright orange ski parkas from the bank robbery scenes in The Friends of Eddie Coyle. This film reminded me of the novel in other ways too—that, and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. In fact, if you like Eddie Coyle and Spring Breakers you’ll probably enjoy Triple 9, at least on some level. It’s a slick, seedy, sweaty crime piece with great aesthetics.
Now for my problem with Triple 9. Watching it, you get the sense that the filmmaker might be something of an unwitting xenophobe. How? The film is brimming with shitbag characters—but there are gradients to the shitbaggery. And that’s one of the best aspects of the film, the moral nuance of it all. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the characters who prove to be most decent are all white Americans (with the exception of Woody Harrelson’s Asian-American assistant—but she's a fairly minor character). Yes, there is an extremely sympathetic Black protagonist, but even he endorses the abhorrent murder plot to which the film owes its title. The movie’s most diabolical characters are all People of Color or “other”—Russian, Jewish, Latino, immigrant. That said, the story does suggest that the Department of Homeland Security operates in sinister collusion with the Jewish-Russian syndicate, and nothing says WHITE AMERICAN ESTABLISHMENT quite like the DHS. So I dunno.
At any rate, I wouldn’t let this issue stop you from seeing the movie. Just be aware of it going in.
Okay, I’m gonna go reread The Friends of Eddie Coyle now.