Triple 9 Review

We’re in the dead zone of cinema at the time of writing. All the Oscar/BAFTA/Golden Globes nominations have come and gone through the theatres and now we’ve got a hard slog until the middle of March (March is when the releases start getting good again). But, as I always try and get a film reviewed once a week, here is the film that interested me the most. I give you Triple 9.

Triple 9 stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet and Woody Harrelson and is directed by John Hillcoat. The films follows a group of dirty cops who to pull off an impossible heist, decide to commit a Triple 9, the radio call for an “officer down” to distract the police force.

While the script is pretty poor, the cast list is pretty good. As well as the four big names mentioned above, the supporting roles are also filled with great actors and actresses. Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Cilfton Collins Jr. and Gal Gadot all do their best with what is a weak script. There is no lines that stick in my mind, but all the actors manage to perform well.

The film starts with a heist and it has some great tracking shots through the bank. While it might never reach the heights of Heat or Public Enemies (both directed superbly by Michael Mann) it still manages to be tense and adrenalin-fuelled. The climax of the scene is an escape on the freeway, while red clouds of smoke (from tainted bills swiped during the robbery) billow out of the escape vehicle. It’s a great opening to the film and captures the feel of the film in a few minutes.

While the film is generally a thriller, the rest of the action is of merit. A raid on a drug-dealers house that eventually spills out into a running gun battle through the streets is exciting, with gunshots coming from all around. The police officers are confused from where they are being shot from and so are we. Another more downbeat action scene, which involves Casey Affleck’s straight cop Chris trying to track Anthony Mackie’s dirty cop Gabe through a dilapidated housing project, despite there not being much action on screen is still very enjoyable to watch. It feels almost like a horror film, as we jump at shadows that could be a violent end for our protagonist.

One thing I did like about Triple 9 was that the film was set in Atlanta. Originally it was to be set in Los Angeles but I’m glad it wasn’t. We’ve seen L.A. in so many films before (it’s also the setting for Heat, just to keep the comparisons coming), it gets kind of repetitive. We see several different locations throughout the film and all of them are varied. The abandoned housing complex is really well visualised and is unlike anything I’ve seen in a similar film. It’s just a light touch to change the setting but it pays dividends.

The film has its faults. I already talked about the weak script, but in general the story is your average heist affair, with nothing really standout. The crooked cops might have been a fresh take, but the film never explains how or why they started robbing banks, which would have added some character to the rather bland protagonists. And as a final point, the film runs for a lot longer than it needs to. The film is brushing at two hours, when really it could have been fine at closer to ninety minutes. I checked my watch a few times in the final half hour and could see a good deal that could have been cut.

In summary, Triple 9 is your average thriller. It doesn’t get to heights of films such as End Of Watch or Sicario, but in a month of slow releases, it’s a fine choice.

Score: 7/10 Nothing new, but still enjoyable.

Dick Tracy Review

Preface

I was looking through a long forgotten drawer in my room and came across a selection of videos and DVDs that I didn’t even remember owning. Filled with mostly forgettable films like The Tuxedo (a Jackie Chan/James Bond knock-off) and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, one film stood out; Dick Tracy. I picked the film out of the drawer and decided to watch it.

Review

Dick Tracy stars Warren Beatty, Madonna, Charlie Korsmo and Al Pacino and is directed by Warren Beatty. Based on the classic 1930s comic strip of the same name, the film follows police detective Dick Tracy (Beatty) as he takes on a colourful array of gangsters led by “Big Boy” Caprice (Pacino).

I did a bit of research on the original comic strip before I started this review, and I can say that the film sticks closely to the characters from the comic in look and design. In the comic, each character is over-designed with a specific feature and colour, making them instantly recognisible. It means with get characters with names like Lips, Little Face, Flattop and The Brow, each one grotesquely different and easily identifiable, with their name being their general description. Praise should be given to the make-up department (who won an Oscar for Best Makeup) who create these fantastic prosthetics that look very similar to the comic strip origins, giving many of the secondary characters memorable looks.

The connection with the original comic strip can also be seen in the overall design of the film. As director, Warren Beatty chose to try and make the film with a palette of only seven colours. This, along with the matte paintings of the skyline of“ The City” (no really, that’s it’s name) makes the film feel just like a moving comic strip, almost fifteen years before Sin City made waves in the film industry for doing the same thing.

Dick Tracy is apparently set in the 1930s, but the film plays mostly as a pastiche of the old Hollywood films from the era of hard-boiled detectives and private eyes. Warren Beatty plays Dick Tracy as the same hard-nosed, soft hearted cop that you’ve seen a thousand times, and Madonna plays the role of the femme fatale Breathless like one of Hitchcock’s infamous blonde beauties, meaning she can’t act but looks great on screen. The film continues it’s pastiche style when Al Pacino (known for his violent gangster roles such as Tony Montana and Michael Corleone from Scarface and The Godfather respectively) turns up as head gangster Big Boy Caprice, chewing scenery and quoting historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington in a bid to look cleverer than he actually is.

But for all the amazing visual design and the large ensemble cast made of great actors, (the previously mentioned Beatty and Pacino, but also Dustin Hoffman, Paul Sorvino, Mandy Patinkin and Dick Van Dyke) the film feels really plastic and fake. The sets look like they could be knocked down by a gust of wind, and the seven palette colour tone, while striking at the beginning, makes the some of the sets interchangeable.

The acting is of two halves, with some actors being monotone and wooden and some overacting their little hearts out. Beatty and Madonna fall into the former category, coming off as boring and disinterested in everything that happens around them. The rest of the cast, mainly the gangsters, police officers and the journalists are just rolling with the daftness of the film and playing it up to eleven, meaning there is this strange dissonance when the two styles of acting meet. But the main problem with Dick Tracy for me is that it just drags. The film is 105 minutes, but it feels a lot more than that. The final act, while thoroughly entertaining, just keeps going and going until you stop caring about the machine gun fire and explosions that litter the final twenty minutes.

In summary, Dick Tracy is fun in the beginning, but begins to slow down past the halfway point. If you’re a fan of the Hollywood films of the 30s, or looking for a comic book adaptation that isn’t about superheroes, then I would recommend it.

Score: 6/10 Looks good, but is a bit forgettable.

Precinct Seven Five Review

Originally being shown at Sundance in 2014, Precinct Seven Five almost slipped under the radar with me. I only found out about it when looking up the releases that were scheduled for the 2015 summer period, and upon investigation I became extremely excited to watch it. Does it live up to the expectations and the reviews?

Precinct Seven Five stars Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw and Dori Eurell and is directed by Tiller Russell. Focusing on the 75th Precinct in New York City during the crime rise of the 1980s and the 1990s, Precinct Seven Five follows the cops who used the situation to their advantage, becoming both police officers and criminals.

Precinct Seven Five starts with the testimony and trial of police officer Michael Dowd. He starts to be quizzed by a member of the commission and he admits to the crimes that he has committed over the past years. Burglary, extortion, drug trafficking, its all here. It’s a brilliant way to start the film, giving us a list of the crimes that we are about to see unravel in the film, knowing that eventually, they will all come back to put him behind bars. The film keeps jumping back to the testimony every ten to twenty minutes, with these brief exchanges telling us the audience that a new sequence of debauched acts are about to take place.

The amount of research and footage is amazing. Credit to the filmmakers for probably pouring through hours of news footage, mugshots, maps and tape recordings. But all that time spent pays off, with the film seamlessly flitting from one to the other, filling in the backstory and showing us the situation in New York in the late 80s. Credit must also be given to the filmmakers for being able to find all of the major people involved and getting them to agree to share their stories.

We spend the majority of the films running time with the retired cops Michael Dowd and Ken Eurell, and their eventual descent into the life of crime. Even so, the film paints the two in a light where we understand what their motivation for becoming a little bit crooked. It’s like a good Scorsese film, we relate to the main character even when they’re destroying the innocent lives around them. It gets to a point in Precinct Seven Five when a former gang boss who the pair worked for subtly hints that he may have had a man killed, and you find yourself unable to root against the two main players.

To go back to the comparison with Martin Scorsese, the film, despite being a documentary, follows a chronological sequence, with the interviews of Dowd and Eurell, along with fellow officers “Chicky” and Walter being brought back in and out when the film calls for it. The story feels just like one of the famed directors best works, as we watch the ultimately flawed individuals reap the rewards of being a crooked cop and not stop when they going was good and resting on their ill gotten gains. Instead we watch, getting almost infuriated as we watch them lose everything around them.

There are moments when the film cuts away to other cops, such as Joe Hall and DEA agent Mike Norster who were tracking the corrupt cops down, and it feels much like The Departed or Infernal Affairs, rather than something that actually took place. There are even times when car chases and shootouts are the subject of the film, and even though most of the time all we have is the narration and the real footage (with small parts of reconstruction), the film is still a lot more pulse pounding and thrilling than it really should be. It’s sometimes even better than some recent cop dramas.

The only problem I had with Precinct Seven Five was the length of it. Even though the film is only around one hour and forty minutes, the film feels a lot longer than it is. It may be due to the fact of the repetitive nature of the film. By the third or fourth time we’ve seen or heard that Dowd and Eurell are getting deeper and deeper into the world of crime, it feels like we’ve heard the overall narrative before with only the minutest difference in the details. However, the film does come back around again in the final ten minutes with another Scorsese-esque moment, giving the ending a really good punch. Stick around during the first few moments of the credits as well for one last interview where the police officer Joe Hall tells the story of watching Dowd eventually go to jail.

In conclusion, Precinct Seven Five is a thrilling and exciting documentary with a main story that is on a par with most classic gangster films. If you can stomach the copious amounts of swearing and the gruesome injury detail that is sometimes shown or mentioned, then you’ll see one of the greatest hits of the summer.

Score: 9/10 A crime story so enthralling you’ll find it hard to believe it was true.