After a crew of thieves – including two corrupt cops – partially botch the robbery of a bank’s safety deposit box for Russian gangsters, the team are given another chance and their fee is withheld until she successfully steal more information, key to the release of the gang’s boss. The only way to pull off the heist is to distract all the local cops long enough for a decent window of time, and the corrupt officers Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Franco (Clifton Collins Jr.) believe the best way to do this is to pull a “Triple 9”, to kill a cop. And they think they’ve got the perfect target in Marcus’ new greenhorn partner Chris (Casey Affleck), the nephew of prominent Detective Sergeant Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson). Meanwhile, the thieves’ leader Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) receives grief from the Russian boss’ wife Irina (Kate Winslet), whose sister (Gal Gadot) is the mother of Michael’s son. The rest of Michael’s team is comprised of Russell (Norman Reedus) and his younger, unstable brother Gabe (Aaron Paul).
Jeez that’s an impressive cast or rising stars and established character actors. I’m reviewing this because Kate Winslet is in it, but with that amount of star power behind it I’d have tracked this down soon anyway. This is a true ensemble, with no one actor drawing much more focus over the others. Arguably Affleck, Mackie and Ejiofor are the main leads as they provide most of the narrative drive, but the likes of Winslet, Paul and Harrelson aren’t that much further behind. Only Gal Gadot – and Teresa Palmer as Affleck’s wife – felt under utilised and wasted in their roles. The problem with this much of an ensemble in a generally efficient script, however, is that no-one really gets much of a chance to shine. Everyone is good, but no-one is great. This is a shame given the talent on screen – go watch Clifton Collins Jr. in Traffic and tell me it’s not a travesty he doesn’t get to do something like that again – but it’s hard to fault a cast working as solidly as they do here, it just would have been nice for them all, or at least a few of them, to have had a moment or two to elevate themselves.
Action-wise there are some pretty great set-pieces, with the opening providing the iconic images from the ad campaign of a speeding car belching out a plume of red smoke as it careens along a highway after a gas bomb is detonated in some stolen loot, and that scene is awesome, particularly aesthetically. There’s also a house infiltration, led by Affleck’s cop, that had me on the edge of my seat throughout and ended in a very unexpected manner for a supporting character. That’s something I didn’t expect from this film, to be surprised, yet often it took turns I didn’t necessarily see coming, occasionally in jarring or shocking ways. To say more would be to divulge spoilers, but I was pleasantly surprised with how this story played out.
Alas the climax felt a little lacklustre and the final moments spent tying up as many loose ends as possible evoked too many memories of The Departed, a film far superior to this one, but I still enjoyed it far more than I expected too. Winslet was decent in a rare villainous role as the Russian mob wife taking charge of her husband’s duties whilst he is incarcerated, and she performs as well as the rest of the cast without really standing out. If I had to pick one performance above all others though, it’d be the wholly unexpected near-cameo from Michael K Williams. I’ll say no more, just look out for it.
Choose Film 7/10