Open Road Films                         158 minutes.                           R

Triple 9 comes blazing out of the gate with a bloody bank heist and the color red flows from there. Aaron Paul said he loved coming out guns exploding but the heist is nothing compared to the gruesome violence shown again and again in this film. Instead of cops and robbers, it’s dirty cops being blackmailed by the Russian mob.

The goal is to pull off jobs that will get what’s necessary to free a Russian Mafia leader in prison in the old country. That’s where a Triple 9 comes into play. That’s code for when a cop goes down and everyone on the force drops everything and speeds to the scene.

Writer Matt Cook said he was talking to a police officer friend one night who told him what a Triple 9 was and it gave him the inspiration to write the script. There are lots of unexpected twists and turns throughout the film dealing with relationships and gruesome killings. Just when you think you have it figured out, it keeps changing.

Kate Winslet plays Irina, the Russian/Israeli wife of the prisoner she’s trying to spring. But she’s more ruthless than her man, or anyone else in this film. Director John Hillcoat says he wanted something unexpected from her and she not only “relished” the opportunity, but delivered.  Winslet said she never played a villain before and loved doing it. He calls her beautiful and super scary, as are her henchmen are Jews in yarmulkes who work in her Kosher meat slaughterhouse. They’re a bloody bunch. In fact, everyone is in this film.

There is a star studded cast. The cops are Aaron Paul, as Gabe, Anthony Mackie as Marcus, Clifton Collins, Jr. as Franco, and Norman Reedus as Russell. Plus Chewitel Ejiofor is Michael, who, to complicate family relations, is the father of a son he begot with the Russian beauty, Elena, Irina’s sister. These are complicated characters. Some have second thoughts about what they’re doing and some just don’t care. The actors actually rode along with cops from the Atlanta police force to get some insight into what they deal with every day for their roles.

That included Casey Affleck, as Chris Allen, the gum chewing good cop, family man. He’s a veteran from military service who joined the Police Department in Atlanta, working his way into the gang unit and made partner of Marcus. He explains to his partner how he ended up coming into this gritty group of cops, but doesn’t seem to fit there. It has to do with his uncle, played by Woody Harrelson, who is a crusty smart ass adding wry humor, which is what Woody does so well.  

Irina puts the boys through all kinds of hoops and threatens them big time to get money and secure data to get her man out of Russia. As bad cops, the boys wreak plenty of havoc shooting up the good and bad. There

are plenty of amazing car chases and crashes. They’re exciting. Add gruesome torture including heads of victims lined up on a hood in the hood for more violence that’s pretty hard to take. Especially the closeups. It’s bad cops, good cop trying to survive a sordid situation with Chris coming closer to finding out what’s really going down. Who do you trust? No one.

Mackie and Paul said they had a blast, literally, being in this film, running, shooting, getting in on all the action. Paul says jumping out of the van, running into the back, speaking in Spanish guns going off…it’s just so much fun.

He says John Hillcoat was the perfect man to bring this story to life and was a very collaborative director. The director says “it was a real challenge when you have such a big ensemble to  make everyone multi-dimensional and really real.” Interesting that Paul says Hillcoat makes everything “honest” in a crime movie. He says the actors bonded like family pushing each other to do great stuff. Paul says he loved watching Chewitel Ejiofor work, and says Mackie brought great energy to the set.  

Is this worth your bucks? You’ll squirm in your seat with all the blood, torture and violence, but there is good action and just when you think you know what’s going on, there’s another surprise. Winslet took her turn as a beautiful villain seriously. She’s tough. But so are the guys. Pay attention and make note of the timing of these gun battle scenes. Director Hillcoat has done a good job weaving this together. It’s not that hard to follow and the characters are pretty well developed. Hard to watch? Yes. It's long at over 2 hours. But stick with it. It’s worth staying for the smart payoff.