Film Of The Week: Triple 9

Director John Hillcoat on his mobster-heist-goes-wrong thriller

It’s increasingly tough to make a good crime movie, because writers and directors are stretching out such stories to make TV series.

The Australian director John Hillcoat says he’s also looking to make something for small screens. That would be cinema’s loss, judging by his stunning new movie, Triple 9. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet, it is full of genuine surprises, and not everyone you expect to survive is alive at the end (and vice versa).

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There’s a clue in the title to one of the film’s turning points — 999 is US police code for “officer down”. Hillcoat, whose previous films include The Proposition (2005), The Road (2009) and Lawless (2012), spoke to Esquire from Los Angeles.

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Why did you make Triple 9?
Having loved gritty films from the Seventies like The French Connection, with one foot in reality and one foot in genre, I wanted to find a contemporary crime thriller in the same vein. Hence exploring the criminal landscape in America, where the Russian-Jewish mafia are on top — there is no one that gets near them. I did a lot of research.

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Did you talk to any bad guys?
Yes, and the FBI. Some of the Latino gang guys in the movie are the real deal — retired members. It would have been too dangerous to have men from two gangs there if they were still active. The Russians are on top but controlling the streets, because of drugs, are the Latino cartels.

What surprised you most in your research?
The stakes just keep getting raised on both sides of the law enforcement divide; the militarisation of the police keeps pace with that of the criminals. In Atlanta, Georgia [where Triple 9 was shot], all police are given Swat training. They have huge tanks. In fact, in the scene where we have a police tank, that one is a fraction of the size of the real ones they use. Logistically, we couldn't get the big one they use.

This is the first of your feature films not to be scored by Nick Cave. Are you still friends?
We’re very close. He really wanted to do this but I wanted a specific sound, drawing on hip-hop and electronic music, music from the streets of America. He understood. He said it would be like asking him to do a reggae score.

Triple 9 is out on 19 February