This Friday marks the release of Triple 9, a gritty heist drama about a gang of dirty cops blackmailed by the Russian mob into executing a virtually impossible heist. For the curious but unconvinced, here are nine good reasons to check out the year’s first solid crime thriller:
1. Everybody loves a heist
With a central plot revolving around the execution of a major break-in and plot twists that include surprise double-crossings, Triple 9 falls squarely in the enduring and popular heist genre alongside the Ocean’s Eleven series, The Italian Job and Inception. Unlike those heist hits, however, Triple 9 is rooted in a grittier, more real-world setting, lending it an edge and intensity not often found in the genre and allowing its large ensemble cast — another defining trait of the genre — to go deeper.
2. It's got intense action
Heist films live or die on the strength of their action set pieces and Triple 9 has not one, not two, but three bits of bravura action filmmaking, including its opening and closing heists. But the real action highlight of the film is a sequence in the middle, in which the Atlanta police (led by Casey Affleck’s rookie cop) raid a housing project in pursuit of a tattooed, gun-carrying gang member. Tautly directed by John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless), the sequence has that you-are-there visceral excitement.
3. The cast is diverse
At a time when most of Hollywood is talking the talk about expanding minority representation on screen, this movie walks the walk. Three actors of color have primary roles, including Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (Best Actor, 12 Years a Slave) as a world-weary heist leader and pawn of the Russian mafia, and Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and ace Latino character actor Clifton Collins Jr. (The Boondock Saints II) as Atlanta cops working both sides of the law.
4. There's a Walking Dead/Breaking Bad brotherhood
The film’s ensemble also includes two big TV stars: Norman Reedus (above, left) of The Walking Dead and Aaron Paul (right) of Breaking Bad. In Triple 9, the two actors and real-life longtime friends play the no-good Welch brothers: Russel (Reedus), a key member of the heist gang; and Gabe (Paul), a drug-addled liability. Be on the lookout for Easter egg nods to their TV work hidden in the movie.
In fact Reedus shot the movie while simultaneously filming The Walking Dead. "Luckily we filmed in Atlanta near The Walking Dead locations, so it made it easier," he told Atlanta Magazine."We actually shot some of Triple 9 in downtown Atlanta…I’ve eaten lunch on top of the bank where we did the heist."
5. Wonder Woman's in it!
Israeli actress Gal Gadot is likely to become a household name soon thanks to her role as Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – well, as long as people can pronounce it (say “Gal” like “Gall” and “Gadot” like “Ga-DOTE”). In the meantime, moviegoers can catch the future Amazonian strutting her stuff in Triple 9 as Elena, the younger sister of Kate Winslet’s Russian mob moss and mother of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s heist ringleader’s son.
6. We love the other Affleck
While big brother Ben may get more media attention for his professional and – ahem — personal endeavors, younger sibling Casey has been quietly and steadily building up audience goodwill thanks to his critically praised work in movies like Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, for which he was Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Here, Casey gives another strong performance as a rookie cop who slowly realizes he’s an unwitting part of a criminal scheme being orchestrated by his fellow officers of the law.
7. Kate Winslet plays a Russian mob boss
Moviegoers have seen Winslet do accents before, like the subtle Polish one she used for her Oscar-nominated turn in Steve Jobs and the sturdy German one for her Oscar-winning role in The Reader. Here, the expert mimic tackles not only a deliciously thick Russian accent but also a full-blown villain role as mob boss Irina Vlaslov. Speaking of full-blown, Winslet’s fans will get a kick out of seeing the usually demure actress sporting a big bouffant hairdo. Oh, and bling. Lots of bling.
In 2014 Winslet told Good Morning Britain she was excited to take the role following the birth of her son Bear because it would, "get me out of the maternity wear and into some sassy costumes!"
8. It's set in the wild wild — South
Director John Hillcoat proved he knows his way around a Western with 2005’s The Proposition and the wild wild west-style criminal landscapes featured in his follow-up films, The Road (2009) and Lawless (2012). In Triple 9, Hillcoat captures a similarly dangerous and volatile environment in modern-day Atlanta, where those living in low-income housing step out onto their balconies to watch gang shootouts just like characters in classic movie Westerns watched gunslingers square off from their porches. This wild wild South-style setting lends added intensity to the movie’s overall action.
Interestingly, the movie was originally supposed to take place in Los Angeles, but Hillcoat told Indiewire's The Playlist it was a "lucky accident" that it turned out they couldn't afford to shoot in L.A. "[Atlanta] is one of the fastest-growing cities. Latino gangs have been infiltrating Georgia, and having spoken to the FBI in Atlanta, the Russian/Israeli mob are there as well. Then there’s the history of the city, as well as the strong hip-hop scene there, which has had an enormous influence on Southern hip-hop, and the whole history of the South in general. So I embraced Atlanta and ran with it big time."
Woody Harrelson has had a Triple-phase career: first as sitcom star on Cheers; then as Hollywood leading man in movies like White Men Can’t Jump and The People vs. Larry Flynt. But it’s in his third phase as a character actor in movies like No Country for Old Men and on TV in True Detective where he’s done some of his most memorable work. Here, Woody brings his ample experience in the crime thriller genre to the role of Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen and infuses his character with enough Woody-isms — including a penchant for weed – to make the performance and character entertaining in that “Woody” way.