The title refers to police code for “officer down” and calling it in precipitates an immediate response from every cop car in the precinct, all desperate to come to a stricken colleague’s aid – and to nail the perp who dared take down one of the city’s finest.
Indeed, such moments, when all other cops are distracted, appear to be the prime time to commit crime elsewhere as there’ll be very few police left over to respond.
Such is the dilemma for the corrupt officers in this flashy, trashy but not unenjoyable thriller, directed by John Hillcoat, the Australian who did such a good job with Nick Cave’s Outback western script, The Proposition.
His outlaws here – following up his less-assured moonshine movie Lawless – are a band of ex-military soldiers and current cops, led by Chiwitel Ejiofor (I love it when he tries to do his American “street” accent) and joined by Anthony Mackie and the ever-jittery Aaron Paul. They carry out a bank job – nicely staged at the opening – then get on with their day job.
We find out they’re working for an improbable creation, Kate Winslet’s vowel-strangling breast-heaving, Russian Jewish mafiosa and kosher meat Queen, a performance of utter ridiculousness matched only in recent memory by Kristin Scott Thomas’ transition in Nic Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives.
Anyway, she wants them to do another job, involving some far-fetched unexplained nonsense to do with secret computer codes kept in a vault at the Homeland Security office. What guff.
All that matters is that our boys have to risk more life and limb and now one of them’s got a new partner, one of those goody-goody new cops who would never take a bribe, played by Casey Affleck. He’s nephew of the maverick local detective Woody Harrelson, too.
Guess who’s the target for the Triple 9 call?
Well done. It doesn’t really matter. You watch Triple 9 for the cliches, for the tattooed Latino gang bangers hissing and braying in the ghetto and for the inevitable meetings in the strip clubs and the feckless street hookers who’ll betray anyone for a hit. There is one excellent extended sequence – which reminded me of the first season of True Detective – featuring a raid in the ghetto and an ensuing chase and shoot out.
All of that is much better cinema than the rest of the movie, but sometimes you do just want a piece of meretricious, outlandish, gritty, nasty, action crap to watch, and Triple 9 fits the bill viciously.