“Triple 9’’ is no routine crime film. It has a meticulous, Swiss watch of a script, written by newcomer Matt Cook; and it’s directed by John Hillcoat (“Lawless,’’ “The Proposition’’), whose films are soulful, serious and marked by strong performances. Hillcoat is drawn to stories involving grim challenges and awful choices, and he gets to grapple with both in “Triple 9.’’
There are about six starring roles, and no one gets lost. Except for Casey Affleck, everyone plays a distinct and different variation of bad. There’s confident, cold-blooded evil, but with reasons (Kate Winslet). There’s indecisive, guilt-ridden, soul-destroyed, pathetic bad — who better to play that than Aaron Paul? There’s Anthony Mackie as bad (but not as bad as he thinks), and Chiwetel Ejiofor as driven-to-desperation bad.
There’s also Woody Harrelson, as a dedicated cop with bad personal habits, who gets drunk and waves his gun around in bars and, at one point, gets stoned in the back of a car with a woman he has just arrested. It’s a measure of the film’s good casting that it’s easy to imagine Harrelson making sense of such a character, but who else could do it?
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