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DIRECTED BY John Hillcoat

STARS Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Triple 9, bless its grubby little heart, tries really hard to be something more than just another gritty cops’n’robbers flick – for one thing, in this film, the cops are the robbers. Set in Atlanta, this finds a group comprised of special ops vets (Chiwetel Ejiofor and others) and crooked police officers (Anthony Mackie and more) knocking off banks and Homeland Security buildings alike, all because they made the mistake of climbing into bed with the Russian Mafia.

The head of the local chapter (Kate Winslet, donning a frightening hairdo and an even more frightening accent) forces the crew to perform one last burglary, one so difficult that they decide they need something to distract the entire Atlanta police force while they’re committing it.

They decide on a 999 – the code for an officer down – figuring everyone will want to help track down a cop killer. But first they need an unsuspecting dupe, so they recruit a greenhorn (Casey Affleck) who, it turns out, proves to be a bit more resilient than they had expected.

Director John Hillcoat (the Down Under Western The Proposition) prefers to shoot extensively in the dark, which adds ambience but also occasionally results in images so dim, you wish an a.d. would hand him a flashlight already. Yet his staging is impressive, particularly during an extended sequence in which cops snake their way through tight hallways and staircases in pursuit of a felon.

The story by debuting scripter Matt Cook doesn’t break any new ground but offers some terse exchanges to go along with some lapses in logic. The work by the members of the impressive ensemble is appropriate for the grim occasion but also limiting, with none of these characters ever allowed to crack a smile or play many emotions beyond surly.

None, that is, except for Woody Harrelson. Cast as Affleck’s uncle, an irreverent detective who enjoys cracking wise when he’s not cracking open a bottle, he’s the only actor here who’s allowed to laugh all the way to the bank.

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