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.