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‘Triple 9’ review: A misguided police drama with no law or order

Terence Rosemore, left, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Ang

Terence Rosemore, left, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Ang in from "Triple 9." Credit: Open Roads / Bob Mahoney

PLOT A crew of crooks and corrupt cops must pull off a nearly impossible heist.

CAST Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson

RATED R (Extreme violence and adult themes)

LENGTH 1:55

BOTTOM LINE A miserable, misguided police drama that almost seems to hate the police.

In John Hillcoat’s ultraviolent crime drama “Triple 9,” life comes pretty cheap. In fact, it’s almost worthless. The story of several crooked policemen and their lowlife friends, “Triple 9” is surely the first movie whose nominal heroes are would-be cop killers. With its woefully confused morality and despicable characters, “Triple 9” is a cop movie that — perhaps unintentionally — seems to hate cops.

It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder why its stars, dependably excellent even here, would have signed up for something so mean-spirited. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Michael Atwood, a career criminal who married into a Russian-Jewish mob and is now in thrall to their leader, Irina Vlaslov (an icy and nearly unrecognizable Kate Winslet). If Michael wants to see his young son again, he and his gang of corrupt cops (Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins, Jr. and others) must pull off a virtually impossible heist: Steal incriminating data from a homeland security compound.

How? By distracting local police with a 999 call — “officer down.” Crooked cop Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) coolly suggests a victim, his annoyingly noble new partner, Chris (Casey Affleck). Kill that guy, every other cop will come running and the heist is as good as done.

Wait — are we supposed to root for these guys? While eagerly shocking us with grisly violence, the filmmakers forget that cop-killers are not the good guys. That’s why Michael’s down-to-the-minute heist lacks tension. Who cares if he succeeds? His kid would be better off without him.

Hillcoat sets the whole grisly affair in Atlanta, perhaps hoping the city’s history of racial tension and cop-citizen friction will add meaning to an otherwise meaningless film. “Triple 9,” however, is not topical in any way. It’s cynical, misguided and outmoded, full of walking clichés (Woody Harrelson plays a hard-drinking detective), female playthings (Chris’ doting wife is played by a half-dressed Teresa Palmer) and pointlessly ugly violence. It closes with Cypress Hill’s cop-mocking rap track “Pigs.”

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