Film review: Triple 9 is a well-executed heist drama that goes off without a hitch

The line between good and bad is blurred in Triple 9, an action film in which a bunch of dirty cops plan a heist by shooting a police officer.

Triple 9

Director: John Hillcoat

Starring: Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Gal Gadot

Four stars

Violence is a way of life in the films of John Hillcoat, director of The Proposition, The Road and Lawless.

His latest, Triple 9, a visceral dirty-cops drama set in the seedier parts of Atlanta, Georgia, is no exception.

It starts with a vividly staged bank robbery, in which five masked men take down a city financial institution and narrowly escape on a traffic-laden freeway, all guns blazing.

It's a wonderful scene, easily up there with the memorable military-precision bank raid in Heat, Michael Mann's 1995 masterpiece starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.

The twist in Triple 9 is that the robbers are – or, in some cases, used to be – cops or soldiers. Leading the pack is Chiwetel Ejiofor's Michael Atwood, a former special forces soldier who is now in league with Russian-Israeli mobsters.

In charge of this so-called Kosher Mafia is the ruthless Irina Valsov, played by Kate Winslet. Yes, that Kate Winslet. The Titanic star, who in this film is all shoulder pads, spiky heels, bouffant hair – and utterly chilling.

Atwood, we learn, is in a bind; Irina’s sister Elena (Gal Gadot) is the mother of his young son, a biological bond that is increasingly tightening around his neck.

Strong-armed by Irina into using his team for a second robbery, the target is an impregnable Homeland Security depot.

The only way to get in is to create a 999 distress call, which is only used when an officer is seriously wounded – it’s the perfect smokescreen, distracting every officer in the city.

And so they decide to shoot a fellow cop – their luckless patsy arrives in the shape of Casey Affleck’s rookie Chris Allen, the new partner of one of the gang members, Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie).

Further stirring this morally murky cauldron we have Allen’s hard-drinking uncle, Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson), the cop assigned the task of unmasking the bank robbers, who diligently wades through Atlanta’s underbelly like a sewer rat.

Scripted by first-time screenwriter Matt Cook, the result is a story swimming in bloodshed and betrayals, double-takes and deception.

Like that other famous Atlanta-set drama, TV's The Walking Dead, it feels like a city on the verge of social collapse – Hillcoat certainly doesn't spare a frame when it comes to casting his camera over the less picturesque pockets of the capital of Georgia.

Set in a world where just about everybody’s moral compass is off-centre, it won’t appeal to anyone looking for a cosy, uplifting evening in the cinema.

But in recalling 1970s Hollywood classics such as Dirty Harry, The French Connection and Serpico, it is heartening to see that Hollywood still has the guts to deliver a film where redemption is a dirty word.

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