A gritty noir full of crooked cops, Russian Israeli mobsters, and careering car chases through the streets of Atlanta, Triple 9 gets bonus points for some offbeat but successful casting - notably Kate Winslet, in a towering coif, jangling with bling, as a crimeland czarina who orders up a heist and orders her goons to throw bloodied, bound bodies into a refrigerated truck. The truck reads Kosher Meats on its side.
"This is fantastic nose," she announces later on, in a thick accent. She means "fantastic news."
Directed by John Hillcoat (The Road, the bootlegging drama Lawless), Triple 9 stars Casey Affleck as a taciturn detective, Woody Harrelson as his boozing uncle (also a detective), and Anthony Mackie as a detective who's moonlighting with a crew of ex-Special Forces thieves. Chiwetel Ejiofor leads the gang; he's the one connected to Winslet's Irina Vlaslov, but it's a tricky relationship. He works for her, but she's his sister-in-law, sort of, too. Elena (Gal Gadot, soon to be seen as Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman) has divorced Ejiofor's Michael, but there's a little boy, Felix, that dad gets to see from time to time.
The title Triple 9 refers to the police radio call for "officer down," and several officers - good ones and corrupt ones - get 9-9-9ed between the bank job that opens the movie and the Homeland Security building break-in that triggers the climactic shootout.
While Affleck, Ejiofor, and Mackie (and Clifton Collins Jr., as another cop-turned-robber) have their moves down, and while Hillcoat has his moves down (tight-knot action, moody atmosphere), the plot gets sketchy, hinging on improbable coincidence, implausible contrivance, and the typecast performance of Aaron Paul (drunken, drugged-up, tormented). Still, most parties concerned maintain their grim countenances, their characters struggling to find the sweet spot between honor and greed, between doing the right thing and doing the absolute worst.
That's not an easy spot to find.