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segunda-feira, 22 de fevereiro de 2016
Triple 9 review: 'almost a great crime thriller'
Even a triumphantly trashed-up Kate Winslet can't save this bank-heist drama from mediocrity
The new crime thriller Triple 9 begins with a bank robbery gone wrong. It’s masks, automatic weapons and zip-up nylon holdalls: stuff most action directors can find their way around in their sleep. But John Hillcoat elevates the sequence from snooze to lucid dream.
As the gang flees the scene, a canister of anti-theft dye explodes in its getaway car. Scarlet smoke billows from the windows, streaking hot cherry-red across the grey-green cityscape. The vehicle screeches to a halt on a motorway bridge, and the gang tumbles out as if in a stupor, their black combat gear stained crimson and marked with guilt. Having established his film’s gritty credentials, Hillcoat hits you with a tableau of pure surreality – the thieves’ best-laid plans thrown intoxicatingly off balance by colour and chaos.
Triple 9 hasjust enough bright ideas like this to make you regret there aren’t more. In almost exactly the same way as Hillcoat’s previous film, the Prohibition caper Lawless, it’s an accomplished disappointment: the zealous cast, surplus of attitude and sinewy set pieces never quite compensate for the thinly sketched characters, unfocused plot and general gnawing sense of potential not being met.
We’re in Atlanta, Georgia, where the city’s police force has curdled to the point of toxicity. At the heart of the department is a group of ex-soldiers who smuggled arms out of Iraq for the Russian-Israeli mob: a relationship you’ll be amazed to hear hasn’t worked out for the best.
Now Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his co-conspirators, two fellow dirty cops (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr.), an ex-army buddy (Norman Reedus) and his deadbeat younger brother (Aaron Paul) are being strong-armed by Mafia queen bee Irina Vlaslov – Kate Winslet, triumphantly trashed-up and a million miles from the Bafta circuit – to carry out a series of increasingly outlandish heists around the city. To add to Atwood’s worries, he also has a son with Vlaslov’s slinky younger sister Elena (Gal Gadot), and the family isn’t above using him as a bargaining chip.
To buy enough time for their latest and supposedly last robbery, Atwood realises he and his gang will have to divert the entire Atlanta police force by triggering a "triple nine": police code for an officer falling in the line of duty. And Mackie’s jaded Marcus Belmont has a potential victim in mind: Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), an officer from out of town whose rigorous ways have already humiliated Belmont on his patch.
The premise of corruption stoked up overseas coming home to roost is intriguing, but Hillcoat and his first-time screenwriter Matt Cook don’t seem to know how to develop it, or even if it interests them in the first place. Instead, they immerse themselves in the southern-fried weirdness of Atlanta itself: the gangs, glaring sun and glowing neon, and the thud and snap of hip-hop music blasting from battered cars.
Atwood and Belmont despise the place for what it’s done to them. But Chris’s uncle Jeffery (Woody Harrelson), the flamboyant Atlanta PD veteran in charge of cracking the bank-robbing spree, is at peace with the streets, and talks affectionately about the many-tentacled “monster” of organised crime his job involves keeping at bay.
It’s fun to watch Harrelson swaggering loopily around town and Ejiofor wrestling with his conscience, and there are flourishes of pure style from Hillcoat, including a sequence of razor-edge tension in which Affleck and Mackie uneasily work together to search an apartment block for an Uzi-toting drug dealer.
But Triple 9 just isn’t sturdily plotted enough to be suspenseful for more than a scene or two on the trot – its numerous borrowings from Michael Mann’s Heat don’t include that film’s crystalline purity of character, action and motive. It feels like fragments of a great crime thriller that’s yet to be made: enthralling up close, but the big picture isn’t complete.