Meanwhile, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) is the new cop in the rough streets of the Atlanta Police Department. Coming from the posh Buckhead region to the crime-ridden projects of the city, Chris is immediately an outcast in the slightly unorthodox unit. He's paired with Marcus, who shows Chris around and takes an immediate disliking to him. Chris and his famous cop uncle, Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), begin to suspect that something big is going down. And they would be right. Michael's team is planning to do a 999- the cop code for "Officer Down." This would cause every officer in the city to the scene of the crime, allowing the team to execute their heist. What follows is a story full of twists and turns, with nobody sure who to trust.
On the surface, the cast is the reason that this movie works so well. There are so many great performances in this film and all of the actors play off each other well. Casey Affleck delivers his second solid performance of the year as Chris, a determined, morally solid young cop. Affleck works as the human center- in a violent, vicious world, Chris is the audience's window in. As Marcus Belmont, Anthony Mackie counters Affleck's performance with a character filled with subtle rage and an underlying intensity. The friction between the two actors is great, and even though we don't know much about either character, it works. Clifton Collins Jr., best known for Pacific Rim, continues to demonstrate his chops as a supporting actor, bring a lot of cool swagger to the role of dirty cop Franco Rodriguez. And finally, Woody Harrelson rounds out the crew of cops in Triple 9 with his traditional mix of charm and nuance- he's the closest the movie comes to comic relief, but there's something in the eyes of Jeffrey Allen that screams ferocity.
However, Triple 9 is a movie that has plenty of weaknesses. The characters aren't exactly the most complex, with the exception of Atwood and a few others. The story gets a little twisted sometimes, as it can become unclear as to who's working for who, why people are doing certain things, etc. And the movie effectively stagnates for a brief period in the middle, sucking a bit of the momentum from the film. John Hilcoat sometimes struggles with keeping the laser focus that you need for a great crime drama and with such a sprawling cast, I guess it's understandable. But while Triple 9 never reaches greatness, something much more interesting happens.
Triple 9 is pure pulp fiction, not in the comic sense of Tarantino's masterpiece, but in the sense of structure and style. In some ways, this flick feels like a comic book, a lost Detective Tales story from the 1950s, only with an elevated sense of viciousness. The bright reds and blazing colors of Triple 9 pop off the screen, contrasting with the gloomy atmosphere and the mostly dark cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis. It's essentially a film noir, with most of the action taking place in seedy bars, dimly lit parking lots, shady backrooms and chaotic police offices.
This is undoubtedly the key to Triple 9's success. While I was watching it, I felt truly drawn into the action, and in many ways, it reminded me of how Tarantino described the pulp magazines that formed the basis for Pulp Fiction. Triple 9 is brutal and wild, but you're simply addicted. Hilcoat's solid directing chops, Cook's meat-and-potatoes screenplay and the exceptional cast give this crime drama the shiny facade of prestige, but make no mistake- this is classic noir of the highest degree. It's mean, delicious greatness and I have no shame in admitting that I had a total blast with every minute of it.
THE FINAL GRADE: B+ (7.8/10)