Review: Triple 9

Triple9Banner The ensemble heist thriller is a funny beast of a movie to make. Ensemble films in general are challenging for a director, one must balance a variety of personalities, all skilled, through a movie that usually does not have enough runtime to feature each actor significantly. Combine that with the twists and turns, constant suspense, riveting dialogue that must accompany the classic heist thriller and you have quite the order on your hands. John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 struggles with this complex series of challenges his own film sets up for him, resulting in a film experience that ultimately may not be great, but is certainly a serviceable representation of a genre that is horribly underrepresented.

The history of the genre itself is fascinating: perhaps the penultimate example of an ensemble heist film is Michael Mann’s 1995 nearly three hour crime epic Heat. This took two of the biggest actors at the time (DeNiro and Pacino) and set them head to head in a violent, intrigue-filled marathon while surrounding them with an extremely competent supporting cast. Towards the end of the nineties, the heist film continued to be shockingly violent but tinged with humor through Guy Ritchie films such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. The new millennium brought a concentration on humor to the genre with the Ocean’s series of movies, and this was turned into a full on reversal of genre tone by the time the last popular heist movie (Tower Heist) was released; a once violent and gritty film category has been hijacked by comedian ensembles and wacky hijinks.

That is where the true promise of Triple 9 comes in: its ability to portray a serious, violent crime thriller in a manner more akin to the late eighties/early nineties vision of the genre. Unrelentingly stylistic with a dark tonality punctuated by moments of extreme and sudden violence define the most compelling parts of the movie. The spray of gunfire isn’t at a Bay-esque constant drone, but rather a staccato of ferocity that masterfully brings the movie out of its periods of long darkness and introspection into the action it so easily provides. The violence serves a purpose too, thematically it accentuates the chaotic environment these characters are thrust into, and neither the character nor the viewer knows when or where the next shots are coming.

And let’s talk about the characters, at once one of the most notable triumphs of this film while also one of its confusing failures. The casting is absurdly well done, and maybe more than not, representative of a new wave of popular actors in Hollywood. The cast is packed full of names, but there were only a few roles that truly excelled. Not at the fault of the excellent cast mind you, but rather indicative of the effect a short run time had on character development. Two standouts were Aaron Paul as “Gabe” and Kate Winslet as “Irina”, both of these actors took relatively minor roles where either had an excuse to play the role as merely a vehicle for plot progression. However, Paul adds a notion of sadness and regret to his character that isn’t really seen elsewhere throughout the movie. Gabe is the only character with a real sense of development throughout the film, and Paul’s approach to that really made his role an admirable performance. Kate Winslet is shocking purely in the fact that this isn’t a character one would usually associate with her. Irina is a cold, calculating bad guy with interesting motivations, a sort of Bond villain that wandered into a heist film. Rather than jarring, this performance actually complements the chaotic nature of the other characters quite well.

Unfortunately, the casting is also what drags the movie down, as so many characters played by so many powerful actors in a film with limited run time creates a clog of personalities that serves only to confuse character development. Despite being an ensemble film, the two leads could be seen as Casey Affleck and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Both of their characters had real relationships that were portrayed in a satisfying enough manner, except, both characters are plagued by near zero character development. Their motivations, approaches, reactions are constant throughout the film. These characters are who they are, unforgivingly, and don’t aspire to change despite a yearning desire on the part of the audience to see something learned, or a thematic gleaned, something that would provide substance to the purely stylistic approach this movie seems to offer.

This lack of character progression combined with an excess of stylistic imagery is what ultimately leads to the other characters fading into the background. Heat had a runtime of 170 minutes, maybe excessive, but this allowed all of the characters involved to bloom into something special. At a comparatively paltry 115 minutes, Triple 9 simply doesn’t have enough breadth to offer all of its key players enough time to carve out a niche for themselves. Everyone involved in this production is clearly skilled at what they do, it just seems the structure they were given to do it in might not have been appropriate for what a good ensemble heist film needs.

However, the really exciting idea that this movie provides is “what could be”. As stated before, the heist film has gone from its brutal rebirth in the nineties to a family-friendly matinee comedy, and perhaps this is the film to bring it back to the effervescent brutality that made it such a heralded format. While the construction of this movie isn’t perfect, it provides what is needed for a successful ensemble heist movie, from the great casting to the stylistic dialogue sequences to the stop-start intense moments of action, this movie is enjoyable. Enjoyable, and perhaps most importantly, a move towards the kind of adult-oriented entertainment the movie industry desperately needs.

[easyreview title= "Review of Triple 9" cat1title="Bart's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.5" overall= false]

Review: Need for Speed

NeedforSpeed The title of this film couldn’t be more accurate. Need for Speed is a movie loosely based on the popular arcade style racing video game series of the same name. There’s very little plot in those games so they had a lot of freedom when it came to making a movie with a plot revolving around fast cars. Of course they had to avoid being a Fast and Furious knock off despite being a movie trying to cash in on the popularity of Fast and Furious. It does that just fine… it takes it’s time doing that in the slowest fast car movie you’ll ever see. This movie serves as a vehicle (hur hur) for Aaron Paul, best known as Jessie from Breaking Bad. He plays the protagonist Tobey Marshall and sadly he never says the word “bitch”. Along for the ride, quite literally, is Imogen Poots as Julia. A role in which she wears the worst wig since Storm in the first X-men movie. If that’s not a wig then her stylist clearly hates her guts. Aaron Paul is a fine actor but he really didn’t put any effort into this movie. Poots clearly was trying to show her acting chops by expressing the only real emotion outside of hate and/or stupidity seen in the film.

So what is this movie about? Well Mr. Marshall runs an auto repair shop and they are apparently the best there ever was. This is odd as we only ever see them kinda working on a car during their introduction. Despite having these support guys we never actually see them repair or build a thing. I should of course mention the opening scene where they are in a street race which clearly endangers everyone on the road despite having a guy in a prop plane spotting from the sky. Yeah, I found that weird as well. No idea how he got a license to just fly above the city at will…

Well rich asshole Dino Brewster, played by Dominic Cooper, wants these guys to help rebuild this legendary Mustang that was half made by some famous mechanic. But oh no, he’s also a known dickhead and is dating Tobey’s ex/Tobey’s pit buddy’s brother Little Pete. But the shop will go under if they don’t take the job so they decide to fix the car. This is accomplished off screen. Because why have an interesting montage when you can continue to pad the scenes between races with drawn out plot?

From here Tobey meets Julia (Poots) as she is sent by her boss to purchase this new car. Tobey proves it can go as fast as he says in the process pissing off Dino because he has a fragile ego. Dino challenges Tobey in a race. If Dino wins he doesn’t pay Tobey. If Tobey wins he gets all of the money from the car sale. Little Pete gets involved because he’s dumb and the three ace in some super rare import cars that are illegal to own in the states. Now we FINALLY get another race scene! It’s awesome and cool and oh crap, Dino causes Pete to crash and runs off leaving Tobey behind and he gets arrested and locked up for two years. Meanwhile he can’t prove Dino was there because the cars aren’t even supposed to be there.

End act 1.

Seriously. Something that should have been the first 15 minutes of the movie was the ENTIRE first act. The second act is Tobey getting out after 2 years in jail and racing across the US in the Mustang with Julia to find this legendary race so he can use it to prove Dino lied (somehow). There’s SO much padding in this act. There’s a scene where one of the crew quits his job in the most strange and drawn out fashion possible. It’s a very long scene and we see far too much skinny man ass to distract us from the fact that there are no cars or races happening. This is followed by a ridiculous car chase, which is welcome, but his buddy is now spotting it in a helicopter, which is stupid. Next more padding with an on the road refueling scene which had the most bizarrely dramatic music and, again, went on for far too long. The padding really gets annoying fairly quickly. It’s very obvious what they are doing and it’s not welcome. Give us fast cars.

Well they do. We get a few scenes of cars and racing and mostly wild public endangerment. I’m not usually one to care about this but when we are supposed to be rooting for these guys and we see civilians and cops constantly in obviously fatal car crashes it gets to be a bit much. These assholes killed a LOT of people. And they never, ever cared.

The third act half boring drama and half super long race scene. YAY race scene! Too bad the premise is absurd as this super secret race that is funded by this super secret billionaire, played by Michael Keaton, was poorly planned. You see when you win you get the loser’s cars. However the cops intervene near the beginning because the planning was shitty. What we get are losers being arrested or FUCKING KILLED IN THEIR WRECKED CARS. This feels very dumb along the whole ride. It’s a great scene to watch but it makes no damn sense what so ever.

When I left the theater I had a much higher score to give as I was kinda happy with the racing scenes as they were very action packed and a joy to watch! Well the first one was hard to follow but after that they looked great. However all the padding in between was not ok. They could cut 40 minutes out of this movie and we’d be fine. This isn’t 12 years A Slave, I don’t need long still shots of Aaron Paul staring at his girl. That is simply boring. The best thing I can say about this movie is that this exact plot would make a GREAT video game and I hope it happens. I’d play it in a heartbeat! But you won’t catch me watching this movie again. I value my time more than that.

[easyreview title= "Review of Need for Speed" cat1title="Rob's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="1.5" overall= false]