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Movie Review

Three ex-mercenaries. Two dirty cops. One job: Break into a bank, steal a safety deposit box for the Russian mafia, get out before the police arrive.

Michael Atwood believes that such a heist is difficult but doable, and he encourages his band of skilled thieves to embrace his can-do attitude. And as they do, things go exactly as planned … right up until one of the guys decides to help himself to a few stacks of cash 'cause, hey, you know, they're in the vault already. And no one notices that the bank manager has managed to slip in a little something "extra" for the otherwise competent thieves: red dye bombs.

Soon a well-planned heist goes wildly awry, ending in a high-profile shootout. Worse, it turns out that whatever it was the Russians (led by steel-hearted matriarch Irina Vlaslov) really wanted from the safe deposit box wasn't even there. So now they've got to do another job, lest the mafia start killing their family members. And it just got a lot harder since the sensitive info the Russians want is being transferred to a high-security Homeland Security facility.

No problem, corrupt police officer Marcus Belmont insists. He says there's one surefire way to make sure the police don't show up too soon: kill a policeman as a diversion, which will instantly occupy the attention of every cop in town once the 999 "officer down" code is dutifully delivered by the dispatcher. "Kill a cop, you got all d--n day," Marcus says coolly. "It's open season. Everybody wants a piece of a cop killer."

And it turns out that Marcus even has a specific suggestion for that sacrificial lamb in blue: his new, true-believer partner, Chris Allen. You see, Allen's a young, married officer who's determined to make a difference on the mean streets of inner-city Atlanta. And it almost goes without saying that Marcus doesn't think much of the guy's earnest, do-gooder convictions.

As the fateful day of the second heist nears, however, various members of the gang harbor anxious second thoughts about so brutally setting up the execution of someone they know. Meanwhile, Chris' drunken-but-dogged uncle on the force, Sgt. Det. Jeffrey Allen, has a growing suspicion that something big and bad is about to go down—a suspicion that's confirmed when a desperate 999 comes in from the last known vicinity of his nephew.

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Positive Elements

Chris Allen offers a relatively unsullied moral foil to the myriad shades of gray to black that besmirch virtually every other character here. He honestly wants to go after the bad guys, to get them off the streets. And it's a mission his loving, loyal wife encourages him in as well, even when he has doubts.

Marcus has little else but contempt for Chris at first, but when Chris saves his life (by shooting a raging criminal in the head), it seems to get Marcus' attention. And even though Marcus is the one who's dreamed up the idea of taking down Chris, he's beginning to have pangs of conscience about his heinous plan. And another member of the gang, Gabe Welch, has even bigger qualms.

As for Sgt. Det. Jeffrey Allen, he's a seriously mixed bag. He doesn't share his young nephew's optimistic outlook about cleaning up the streets, but he's nonetheless determined to get the baddies he pursues. He's also deeply committed to Chris and his young family, and you get the sense that he'd do anything to protect them.

Spiritual Content

A Jewish woman wears a prominent Star of David. A police officer wears an Egyptian ankh pendant. Chris wears a Christian cross, and we see another cross on the wall in his home. Passing reference is made to a mother's prayers. A black street preacher rants about "the mark of the beast." He says the Antichrist will be white while standing in front of a poster that declares, "Jesus Was a Negro." There's this sarcastic jab: "You and I pray at the same altar."

Sexual Content

Breast nudity, rear nudity and even some sexual contact between customer and dancer are shown at a strip club. Lap dances are offered. The club's manager is a transsexual with a deep voice named Sweet Pea. Wearing just a shirt (and showing backside nudity to the camera), Chris' wife tries to entice him to bed with a kiss. Elena (who is Irina's sister) wears formfitting and revealing clothing throughout. She's also shown on a beach in a bikini (along with other similarly attired women). She propositions Michael, removing her top and revealing her bra. Irina's outfits include tops with plunging necklines. We hear about porn and a crude reference to oral sex.

Violent Content

A dead gang member's nude body is shown blurrily on a morgue gurney in the background. And it's about the only blurry bit of violence-related material in the whole film as brutal violence absolutely permeates Triple 9. We see three decapitated heads on a car hood at a crime scene. Multiple characters are shot and killed, several at close range, a couple of them with bloody head shots. A man who's dying after being nearly suffocated with a bag is shot at point-blank range by an associate who promises he'll ease the man's suffering. Someone gets shot through the hand. An explosive device blows part of a man's foot off, and it bleeds profusely as he writhes in agony. Other people have explosives affixed to their heads and necks. Thieves use bombs to decimate doors and vaults, and they also destroy three vehicles, including one that's full of people. (A body is shown burning on the ground afterward.)

Two half-clothed people, a man and a woman, are tied up and bleeding in the trunk of a car. A woman is threatened by a man who holds a knife to her neck in a shower. She's later murdered and left, only partially clothed, in a grocery cart outside. Someone is shot in the neck and bleeds out.

Patrons and employees at a bank are terrorized by automatic weapons fired into the ceiling. Multiple car chases rip through traffic in Atlanta—both on freeways and city streets—resulting in lots of crashes. Security guards are Tazed. Two men are badly beaten. We hear that a bullet is lodged in an unconscious, hospitalized man's brain.

Crude or Profane Language

The dialogue is as brutal as the violence. There are nearly 125 f-words, a dozen or so paired with "mother," three with Jesus' name and one with God's name. God's name gets mashed up with "d--n" four or five times, and Jesus' is further abused twice. There's one use of the c-word, two or three each of "c---s---er" and "d--k." Also: 35 or so s-words, along with the likes of "b--ch," "h---," "a--," "a--hole" and "p---."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters consume various alcoholic beverages and smoke cigarettes throughout. A couple of scenes in bars and strip clubs show Chris and Jeffrey drinking to the point of severe intoxication. Gabe is reduced to perpetual drunkenness after his brother is brutally murdered. The thieves share a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's.

Jeffrey's also got a penchant for smoking marijuana, which he sometimes does on the job. He even takes a joint from someone he's threatening to arrest, lights it, sticks it up his nose and takes a long draw before commenting on how pleasant its effects are. Others toke too, and a woman at the strip club is shown inhaling from a glass pipe.

Other Negative Elements

The officers at the Atlanta Police Department are depicted as hardened and corrupt, so much so that even the so-called "good guys" like Sgt. Det. Jeffrey Allen can get away with stealing a suspect's pot and smoking it while other officers are around. His nephew, Chris, wants to do the right thing for the right reasons, but he's in the minority in a film that does little to combat what some see in our culture as diminishing respect for law enforcement. We also learn that the Feds are trying to make some kind of "deal" with the Russians, and it's implied that federal-level authorities are just as corrupt as local police.

Meanwhile, a Russian Mafioso seamlessly directs his minions' activities via satellite phone … from prison. Irina manipulates Michael into doing her bidding by wielding her control over his son. And she derisively calls Michael, who's black, a "monkey." To pin the crime on Hispanics, Michael and his men say Spanish words while trying to pull off the first heist.

At a policeman's funeral, one of the most corrupt officers says darkly, "Better him than me." A gang member's tattoo references N.W.A.'s notorious song by proclaiming "F--- the Police."

Conclusion

Triple 9's tagline is, "Nothing is black and white." And while we might debate the philosophical merits of that statement in isolation, a more honest distillation of this movie's worldview would be closer to, "Almost everything is black."

Still, some of the film's stars are proclaiming the merits of this gritty tale's intentional moral murkiness, a theme it thrusts bloodily into our faces from start to finish. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Michael Atwood (the gang's ostensible leader), told USA Today, "There was something interesting about a guy who's found himself in this kind of moral gray, to such a degree that he's more comfortable robbing a bank than he is communicating with his child or trying to work out how to be a father."

Interesting?

This isn't a movie about the subtle, tender or even sometimes tattered nuances of father-son communication. No, Triple 9 is a brutally profane, wincingly violent thriller that pretends to plumb the depths of moral ambiguity even as it unflinchingly assaults us with the story of mostly bad men and one seriously bad Russian woman doing outrageously bad things.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Michael Atwood; Anthony Mackie as Marcus Belmont; Casey Affleck as Chris Allen; Woody Harrelson as Sgt. Det. Jeffrey Allen; Clifton Collins Jr. as Franco Rodriguez; Norman Reedus as Russel Welch; Aaron Paul as Gabe Welch; Kate Winslet as Irina Vlaslov; Gal Gadot as Elena; Teresa Palmer as Michelle Allen; Luis Da Silva Jr. as Luis Pinto; Blake McLennan as Felix

Director

John Hillcoat ( LawlessThe Road)

Distributor

Open Road

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

February 26, 2016

On Video

May 31, 2016

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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