The place is Atlanta Georgia and these men are planning a heist to the minutest detail. One of them, Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), has a very personal reason for carrying out the bank robbery, because he and his colleagues are actually cops, and they are being blackmailed by members of a Russian Jewish mafia, the leader of which is Irina (Kate Winslet), whose sister Elena (Gal Gadot) used to be married to him. She bore him a child, but there is no way he is going to be allowed to see him unless he steals a large amount of cash for her and her compatriots. This is why he and his cohorts, as they already know how to pull off crimes in their line of business, manage to get away with a small fortune, though it isn't easy...
It's pleasing to see a heist that doesn't go exactly right, as happens in the opening ten minutes of Triple 9, especially when the lawbreakers should really know better, thus the bag of money is booby trapped with a smoke-billowing device that also dyes the robbers red, and when it is set off halfway down the highway there was a pretty solid action sequence devised by director John Hillcoat that raised hopes for the rest of the two hour movie. Alas, after that fine beginning this failed to live up to its potential, lost in a plot that muttered away without making it clear why any of this needed to happen at all, as after all it would take a lot to make a gang of policemen put their livelihoods on the line all for the sake of one little boy.
A little boy who we’re supposed to believe his father has no legal recourse to access to him, which makes you wonder how bad a father was Marcus in the first place? That's difficult to make out as well, since the characters here, the male ones at any rate, had one setting: ultra-macho, and they constantly strutted around in a state of having something to prove to the world about their masculinity, a demeanour that grew very wearying very quickly. There was not so much as a whiff of a sense of humour in the whole film, unless you counted Woody Harrelson as Detective Allen going through someone's bins for a morsel. But then, that was Harrelson all over here: running rampant through the plot like a rogue elephant.
At least it was something to watch, all these antics, though for reasons best known to himself in between emulating Gene Hackman in The French Connection (yes, there was a race against time in a car with the Woodster at the wheel) he chose to deliver his dialogue in a curiously mush-mouthed fashion that left lines indistinct, not good when you were straining to work out whether this was worth following or whether it was just another Michael Mann knock-off, only this time matching the star power he was accustomed to mustering. Really, the cast was the best thing about this, with some very fine actors (and actresses, though not so many of those) getting to act as butch as they could, including in those action sequences which they threw themselves into with gusto (or their stunt doubles did).
Fair enough, Aaron Paul wasn't particularly intimidating as he portrayed the weak link in the gang, going over the top with his character's pathetic behaviour, but as the plot began to coalesce around Casey Affleck as detective Chris Allen (nephew of Woody), the sense of witnessing some private competition to see who could out-act the rest grew stronger. This would have been entertaining as far as that went if the material had been there, but as the rumours of production troubles behind the scenes were present, it was obvious there was a degree of compromise far more extensive than you imagine Hillcoat intended. What you were left with were three or four diverting action setpieces and some big stars doing their best to make themselves heard above a din of a movie pulling itself apart as it went in different directions, neither a satisfying crime drama (the irony of the conclusion failed to be especially surprising when it looked like it was intended to be) nor a pulse-pounding thrill ride when there wasn't really any one individual you could get behind. One supposed Chris was the hero since he was the target for the gang's scheme to distract cops from their second heist by killing him, but he was rarely an appealing performer when called upon to be the uncomplicated hero. Interesting elements, but promise was wasted.
[Entertainment One's Blu-ray has as extras two featurettes, deleted scenes and interviews with the cast.]