February continues to be a “business as usual” month, as studios trot out the films that few have been holding their breath for (the recent surprise smash that is Deadpool notwithstanding).
Triple 9 features Oscar winners Kate Winslet and Chiwetel Ejiofor, as well as Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul and Woody Harrelson in a gritty crime drama that won’t have the actors making room on their mantles. However, the doom-laden scenario, intense acting, and sustained tension, punctuated with some well-staged action sequences, help make this a relatively satisfying diversion.
The title Triple 9 refers to an “officer down” call that generates immediate police response to that location—and it is vital to the film’s premise. A gang made up of both criminals and dirty cops are in league with the Russian mob (led by the imprisoned Russian boss’ wife Winslet—presented here as evil incarnate—somebody give her a moustache to twirl). After an exciting opening heist (that goes a little awry) the gang is compelled to do “one more job”—a job which requires the “officer down” diversion in order to buy the time needed to secure data needed to free Winslet’s husband from a Russian prison. Crooked cop Anthony Mackie proposes the victim to be his young, incorruptible partner Casey Affleck; ringleader Ejiofor agrees, but he’s in a bind himself, since Winslet has a literal hold on his son. Meanwhile police detective Woody Harrelson (Affleck’s character’s uncle) is trying to figure how all the pieces fit, while troubled crook Aaron Paul develops a conscience that is working overtime.
It’s interesting to see Ejiofor go “down and dirty” but the role doesn’t give him much to do besides be grim and determined. This is probably Paul’s best post- Breaking Bad effort to date, while Mackie does a good job at trying to convey a sliver of ambivalence to his generally contemptible cop. The main acting honors go to Affleck and Harrelson as a plausible pair of cops bound by their pursuit of the truth, as much as they are by blood. It won’t win awards, but Triple 9 has action and intensity to spare.
Race tries to paint a complete picture of African-American Jesse Owens’ sprint towards glory in the 1936 Olympics, depicting not only Owens’ struggles, but the racial climate of the times, both here and abroad (while the blacks were subjugated here, Hitler was implementing the inhuman doctrines aimed at preserving ‘the master race”). Owens’ (a fine Stephan James) relationship with his coach (an equally good Jason Sudeikis) is fairly conventional but sincerely presented. At times though, Owens’ story threatens to be overshadowed by all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and grandstanding of Olympic officials (forcefully portrayed by Jeremy Irons and William Hurt) to ensure—or deny—American participation in the controversial contest. Yet, old-fashioned as the storytelling might be, and as much as some of the issues and relationships are telegraphed, there is a degree of emotional impact, especially in the small but telling gestures of Owend and his competitors (both German and American). And the filmmakers don’t shy some from the double dealings on both sides –especially the decision to bench the two Jewish runners (at the behest of Propoganda Minister Goebbels). Owens may achieve his share of Olympic glory, but this did not shield him from being subjected to countless indignities by his fellow Americans—as the movie makes abundantly clear.
Quick take: Misconduct. Do not see it. You haven’t heard of it? No surprise—as it slithered into one New York theater and immediately found sanctuary On Demand. Don’t demand it—even if you’re curious to see Oscar-winners Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins, and how they would fare in material clearly unworthy of them (the answer is not well at all—though the camera lingers on them, as if to prolong the level of their involvement). It’s hard to see, with its convoluted plot, unsatisfying payoff, and complete lack of character development, why anyone would consent to be in this film. I guess times are tough all over, even for past Oscar winners. It’s also a sad reminder that the movies, far from being art, can be “just business.”