Threat of violence offset by black humour
TRIPLE 9 (15)
There is no limit to what desperate men will do... when pushed.
So says a gangster's wife in John Hillcoat's taut action thriller set on the mean streets of Atlanta, where the lawmakers brandishing police badges are just as corrupt as the wastrels they put behind bars.
It's a familiar set-up and Triple 9 doesn't deviate wildly from expectations, but while this fast-paced game of cops and robbers might not have originality in its arsenal, it is blessed with a stellar cast and a robust script penned by Matt Cook.
He has a sharp ear for snappy dialogue and cranks up the tension with confidence, punctuating numerous double and triple-crosses with muscular and propulsive set-pieces that invariably end in a hail of bullets.
Hillcoat's previous film, the Depression-era thriller Lawless starring Tom Hardy, was an exercise in period style and blood-spattered machismo.
High levels of testosterone also course through the bulging veins of Triple 9, particularly when the criminal fraternity posture and brawl to remind one another that there is no honour between thieves.
At the heart of this man's world is venomous moll Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), who takes charge of the Russian-Israeli mob while her husband Vassili (Igor Komar) languishes behind bars.
She puts the squeeze on private security contractor Michael Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his team of dirty cops and Special Ops veterans.
Michael fathered a child with Irina's sister Elena (Gal Gadot) and is beholden to the Vlaslovs if he wants access to his boy.
Irina insists that Michael and his accomplices pull off the heist of valuable computer files from a safe house.
It's an impossible task within a three-minute window before police respond to an emergency call, so Michael, homicide detective Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr), street cop Marcus Atwood (Anthony Mackie) and brothers Russell and Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus) decide to buy themselves extra time with a distraction.
They will kill rookie cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), the nephew of Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), and while the entire police department responds to reports of an "officer down", the rest of the gang will carry out the theft without fear of arrest.
Triple 9 exerts a strong grip on our attention.
It's not vice-like for the entire two hours - there's a noticeable lull as scriptwriter Cook knits the various strands of his sinewy plot into place - but the chilling threat of violence clouds every frame.
Black humour offsets the brutality like when a bank manager whimpers that robbers forced him to open the safe by brandishing pictures of his family and Harrelson's detective retorts, "Be careful what you Insta-Google-tweet-paste."
A mantra for life in less than 140 characters.