While 12 Years a Slave was by no means Chiwetel Ejiofor’s first major movie, it did put him on the Hollywood superstar map. Fast forward two years and the British star’s latest character couldn’t be less like the honourable Solomon Northup he played in 12 Years.
In Triple 9 Ejiofor plays Terrell Tompkins, the head of a group of criminals who think nothing of holding up banks or blowing hostages’ feet off. The group is made up of a mix of low lives, ex-marines and crooked cops. There’s Terrell, brothers Russel (Norman Reedus) and Gabe (Aaron Paul) and cops Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr.), and despite running a slick operation, their latest job is proving difficult.
Hired by Terrell’s sort of sister-in-law Irina (Kate Winslet), the gang are tasked with uncovering important documents for a Russian mob family. When the job suddenly requires more work, the gang are unsure about saying yes – which makes Irina quickly turn nasty. And as the aunt of Terrell’s son Felix, she finds she has the perfect pawn to get the gang to play ball.
A spanner is thrown into the works though, after cop Marcus is forced to buddy up with his station’s new boy Chris (Casey Affleck), the nephew of big shot Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson).
What follows is a fast pace, violent crime heist, which puts a fresh spin on the genre.
Director John Hillcoat does a great job in casting well-known actors in unfamiliar territory. British darling of cinema Winslet is scarily cold and detached as crime matriarch Irina, who’s expensive, but tacky wardrobe, hides an evil personality. Her Russian drawl is slightly comical to begin with, but it’s a tricky accent to master and she soon finds her flow.
Marvel superhero Mackie is also great in a much darker role and shines as bent cop Marcus. However Paul, who found fame as drug addict Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, doesn’t stray too far from his troubled small screen alter ego here. That’s not to say he’s bad in Triple 9, but it’s more exciting to see actors like Ejiofor and Winslet shake off their normally nice guy roles.
Sine True Detective Harrelson has been back on top form, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Affleck also puts in a solid effort.
Hillcoat doesn’t shy away from violence with this flick, and there are a few stomach churning moments. They work though, highlighting just how ruthless this heist gang is. The body bags quickly stack up, and it’s refreshing not knowing who will survive and who won’t.
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