Triple 9

The heist movie is a sub-genre that, like England in a World Cup, continually fails to deliver against even rather modest standards. It should be easy to make a decent heist movie, all I want is the basic elements: getting the gang together, planning the heist, a tense set-piece robbery sequence, the inevitable aftermath. I don’t want originality particularly, just well executed simple set of rules. And yet it is so hard to find a reasonable example of this genre and one is continually left disappointed. It’s akin to trying to get a decent cup of tea in the US – simple one would think, but oh so elusive. There is the embarrassed heist movie that feels being just a straightforward one is beneath it, such as Now You See Me. This is the equivalent of the tea latte – too much going on and just wrong. Then there are the flavours of heist – comedy (Tower Heist), action chase (The Heist), sci-fi (Inception). These are the peppermint, blackcurrant, flavoured teas of the heist world – fine if you like that sort of thing, but not really, you know, the pucker deal. Like coming across any halfway decent cup of tea, any heist movie that is not bad makes you overrate it (The Town).

Triple 9 isn’t really a heist movie. It probably wants to be. It wants to be lots of things – True Detective, Internal Affairs, Heat. It wants to be Heat so bad, it’s painful. It has promise, as it gets the cast mostly right – Ejiofor and Affleck in good leads, plus your favourite characters from your favourite TV shows. It also has Woody Harrelson with some dentures and Kate Winslet borrowing Gary Oldman’s Russian accent from Child 44. It starts ok with a robbery going wrong, which involves some corrupt cops and a link to Russian mafia. But then it never really does anything right. There is no sense of claustrophobia as we build towards the final job which involves killing a cop, no feeling of tension in the investigation of the corrupt police, no air of menace from the Russian overlords. It goes along, some people get shot, there are some overlapping storylines, you don’t really care, then it ends. It’s rather typical of the genre and of tea in America – it’s not served hot enough, too much milk is added and in the end it’s just a weak, disappointing solution.

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2 Responses to Triple 9

  1. Jim Groom says:

    I love your review style, but given I would never be caught drinking tea PERIOD—the metaphor fails a bit 🙂 I completely agree with you about the heist film, i think you nail it here. You really have to go back a while for good heist films. One recent one I liked a lot, and probably because the bar has been set so low, is Spike Lee’s Inside Man. Beyond that, I’m trying to think of my favorite heist films, so here is my shot at a list of ten, no particular order of preference:

    1. Rififi
    2. Criss Cross
    3. The Killers (1946)
    4. The Underneath (1990s remake of Criss Cross)
    5. The Killing
    6. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
    7. Dog Day Afternoon
    8. Touchez Pas au Grisbi
    9. Le Trou (not a hesit film per se, more of a prison break film, but everything a great heist film should be)
    10. Dead Presidents

    On the topic of heat, I re-watched it recently and I didn’t like it the first or the second time. Al Pacino really kills films for me. And everything in the movie was so baroque. It completely bored me. I also what The Thief recently, and I love James Caan, but that was a disappointment too. I don’t think Michael Mann’s stuff ages well at all, and those folks who hold up Heat as a great film live lives of quiet desperation.

    That was fun, I love your film blog, dude, so good, and your write is “top notch”!

    • admin says:

      Nice list! I agree about Rififi – everything else is downhill after that. I don’t think I’ve seen The Underneath or Touchez Pas.
      I quite liked Bill Murray’s Quick Change, and related to last comment – I like The Town, it’s straightforward heist. I have fond memories of The Thief, but I think you’re right about Mann.

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