Review: Triple 9

2015-10-06-14_49_25-Triple-9---Red-Band-Trailer-VO---YouTube

DIR: John Hillcoat • WRI: Matt Cook • PRO: Marc Butan, Bard Dorros, Anthony Katagas, Keith Redmon, Christopher Woodrow • DOP: Nicolas Karakatsanis • ED: Dylan Tichenor • DES: Tim Grimes • MUS: Bobby Krlic, Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, Claudia Sarne • CAST: Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer, Norman Reedus

John Hillcoat returns to feature-length filmmaking after four years with Triple 9, a gritty crime thriller in which the cops are the robbers, as four corrupt officers and ex-military commit heists on behalf of the Jewish mafia. As with Hillcoat’s previous film, Lawless, the most striking element is its ensemble cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, and Norman Reedus all come together in this story of blackmail and treachery.

Ex-military officer Terrell Tompkins (Ejiofor) works with former partners Jorge, Marcus (Mackie), and the Welch brothers (Paul and Reedus) to steal from the Russian mafia, an obligation Terrell is forced to do because of his son being held by the head of the Jewish mafia, Irina Vlaslov (Winslet). When one heist isn’t enough for Vlaslov to return Terrell’s son, the men decide to commit a “999” (which is police code for “officer down”), because it will distract law enforcement from the much bigger robbery occurring across town. And as the men determine which officer they should kill, Marcus’s new partner, Chris (Affleck), seems to be the perfect candidate.

Allowing a cast of this size to share an almost equal amount of time on screen means the narrative is more complicated than it may appear. Omitted from the description is Chris’s uncle, Jeff (Harrelson), whose appearance in the film is frequent but whose impact on the narrative is questionable. As are a lot of things in this film. The screenwriter, Matt Cook, confuses complex with confusing when developing the relationship and motivation between Terrell and Irina. Her withholding of Terrell’s son is not quite a kidnapping since the child’s mother is also Irina’s sister nor are there any restraints to seeing one another. As the key motivation for Terrell’s actions, the question of why exactly he has to do anything looms over the film’s entire story. So, too, are some of the actions the Jewish mafia commit over the course of the film, that only make sense from a writing standpoint to create tension, but is utterly baffling within the narrative.

This being a crime thriller, the tone of this movie is emphatically gritty. Everyone has tattoos and a five o’clock shadow, never smile, only scowl, drink Jack Daniels, and speak with low gravelly voices. Even Kate Winslet appears entirely unlike herself with heavy hairspray, heavy makeup, and a Jewish-American accent. By the forceful creation of this noir-esque mood, there’s a hilarious absurdity to its commitment, especially with some of the choices the film makes. While Jeff continues his investigation into the first robbery, he questions Sweet Pea (played by The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams), a cross-dressing prostitute with a neon-pink papillon dog. Likewise, there was and still is a Jewish mafia, but the image of mobsters in stereotypical Jewish attire who do nothing but dispose people in kosher meat trucks throughout the film is unintentionally funny. By inserting these moments into the film, Hillcoat seems self-consciously reluctant to commit to the tone he’s trying desperately to create and makes the overall atmosphere fall flat.

All that aside, Triple 9 has a very smooth and fast pace which makes the film’s set pieces more effective than not. Aside from the two heists, the shootouts in the film utilize the tight locations well enough to create a tense, claustrophobic ambience reminiscent of the concluding moments to Silence of the Lambs. And, though some performances are average at best (particularly Reedus and Ejiofor), Aaron Paul is finally given a character he can work well with, unlike his earlier attempts moving onto the big screen, and Anthony Mackie proves himself to be a compelling performer deserving of more roles outside of the Marvel blockbusters. But, as a whole, the ideas, themes, and talent the film brings together don’t quite blend well enough to be satisfying in this otherwise generic crime thriller.

Michael O’Sullivan

16 (See IFCO for details)

115 minutes

Triple 9 is released 19th February 2016

Triple 9 – Official Website

 

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

DIR: Jon Turteltaub • WRI: Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard • PRO: Jerry Bruckheimer • DOP: Bojan Bazelli • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: Naomi Shohan • CAST: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Teresa Palmer, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell

The long wait is over and here at last is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I kid, I kid. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is indeed another of the many Harry Potter clones to grace our screens, this one based on the segment of the same name from Disney’s Fantasia (as far as original source material goes, it’s certainly better than a theme park ride). Director Jon Turteltaub teams up with his National Treasure star, Nicolas Cage, to bring us on an energetic journey into the realms of magic and physics.

The plot will raise no eyebrows as following the death of Arthurian wizard Merlin his apprentice, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), is assigned to await the birth of Merlin’s successor, who alone can defeat their evil nemesis. This gifted youth turns out to be an oblivious and clumsy physics student, Dave (Jay Baruchel), in present day New York. While it is an unabashed Harry Potter clone, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice emerges as a surprisingly funny and highly entertaining addition to this rapidly expanding sub-genre.

The cast make a good go of it with Baruchel exhibiting charisma and humour as the titular apprentice while his Conan O’Brien modelled quiff makes up for his added years. Nicolas Cage is entirely at home playing the outwardly grumpy Balthazar while the film had a real coup with the casting of its villains. On the side of evil is Balthazar’s peer, Maxim Horvath, played with relish by Alfred Molina, along with his own apprentice, Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell). Kebbell is excellent as the rock star magician complete with ostentatious penthouse and 6-inch heels while you can’t help but root for thespian Molina as he chews through scenery with reckless abandon.

Visually, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a real treat as the many set-pieces feature very impressive special effects. These aren’t just the usual good and evil opposing beams of light either – as with Fantasia, the film gets some great work out of the sorcerers’ possession of inanimate objects.

What is most striking about this film is how it manages to be entertaining as a magical tale but also to include physics and, shockingly, make it cool. Just like the similarly entertaining Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief which makes Greek mythology appealing for a young audience, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is highly recommended as a film to entertain children but which may also have the added bonus of rousing their interest in science.

Peter White

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
is released on 11th August 2010

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Official Website

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