Three times the mayhem

Triple 9 lives up to violent, gun-happy billing

Starring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet. Directed by John Hillcoat. Cinemark 14. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

Triple 9 is a labyrinthian crime story/action film with a big cast of characters (police and thieves, mostly) and a small, scrambled multitude of glowering plot twists (rogue cops, thugs in high places, would-be avengers, etc.).

In some ways, though, it’s little more than a two-hour jamboree of gunplay. But there’s enough of that “little more” to keep its audience engaged long enough to appreciate whatever small rewards become available in the final reels.

Screenwriter Matt Cook has concocted an outlandish tangle of a plot that involves murder, kidnapping, extortion, the Russian mafia, interagency rivalries, double-dealing cops, divided families, broken promises, etc., etc. Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road, Lawless) maintains furious levels of violent action right from the start and leaves details of character and plot to be revealed only in fits and starts amid the nearly non-stop tumult.

Early on, Triple 9 seems mainly a dreary, sullen spectacle of hellish hostilities. That will remain at least part of the point right to the end, but it’s somewhat leavened by the modest but effective work emerging from that large, interesting cast of actors.

Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, etc., don’t get a whole lot of acting opportunities here, but their sheer presence as movie icons gives Triple 9 and its mostly generic characterizations some tacit dimensions of character and emotion that would otherwise be missing.

Affleck and Ejiofor, playing two very different kinds of policeman, are understated without being emotionally blank. Winslet, playing the Ejiofor character’s Russian, Jewish sister-in-law, is similarly understated in the role of a woman who is both stoical and devious. (She seems to have immersed herself in this role much as she did for her part in Steve Jobs.)

Harrelson is both funny and frightening in another of his gonzo cop roles. Clifton Collins Jr., sounding a little like Matthew McConaughey, makes a sharp impression as one of the wheeler-dealers among the police figures.

Anthony Mackie is intense and ambivalent as the Affleck character’s skeptical partner. Aaron Paul chews some scenery as an embittered ex-cop. As Ejiofor’s ex-wife, Gal Gadot seems thoroughly uninvolved, which is perfect for that role.