Movie Review: “Triple 9″

Starring
Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer
Director
John Hillcoat

Director John Hillcoat makes unpleasant movies. His films (“The Road,” “The Proposition”) tend to focus on violent worlds, and how characters embrace, accept or run from their environment. Hillcoat is an unflinching filmmaker, even when he’s making more commercial movies. “Triple 9” is a more conventional picture from the director, but as proven with “Lawless,” he knows how to spin a familiar tale well.

The Russian mob, led by a ferocious and dazzling Kate Winslet, has a well-trained team of robbers firmly under its thumb, including two corrupt cops (Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins Jr.). Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the leader of the gang and wants out, but due to personal reasons – he has a kid with the mob boss’ sister (Gal Gadot) – starting a new life isn’t going to be easy. To begin again, Michael will have to pull off a near-impossible heist. However, an opportunity presents itself when one of his crew members, Marcus Belmont (Mackie), is assigned a new partner in rookie cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), who he may have to betray in order to earn his last big score.

This crime thriller, written by Matt Cook, is very much rooted in genre. The setup, some of the archetypes, and the payoffs are often what you expect, but when Cook and Hillcoat dig a little deeper, the results are generally rewarding, especially when it comes to the more dynamic performances.

Woody Harrelson as Chris’ brother, Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen, is just a big ball of unstoppable, unhinged and enigmatic energy. Whenever he enters a room, “Triple 9” just lights up. It’s not because Harrelson is playing a scene-stealing kind of character, but it’s the duality of his performance and Cook’s writing that makes the detective such a fascinating figure. He’s a mess, always looking like he just got out of bed. He’s a goof and breaks the rules, but he’s also a kind-hearted guy and a cop dedicated to his job and his brother. The character goes to some funny places, and when Hillcoat and Harrelson go there, it’s very entertaining.

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Movie Review: “The Finest Hours”

Starring
Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger
Director
Craig Gillespie

It’s easy to see why studios are drawn to stories like the one behind “The Finest Hours,” where four Cape Cod Coast Guardsmen braved impossible weather to rescue the 33 men trapped on a severed oil tanker. By all rights, every one of them should have died a cold, miserable death that night in early 1952, but they didn’t, and it is still considered one of the greatest rescues in Coast Guard history, which is why someone thought, “We should make a film about this.” That in itself is not a bad idea. The bad idea is when the film they make about this incredible story looks like every other film ever made about a similar story. This is a pity; the water sequences are breathtaking, but it’s hard to get emotionally invested in any of the characters, not for a lack of effort on Casey Affleck’s part.

Coast Guard Boatswain Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is about to meet, for the first time, the girl he has spent the last four weeks talking on the phone. He’s nervous about how she’ll feel about him, even though a) she’s taken his calls for four weeks, and b) he looks like Chris Pine. The girl, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), likes him just fine, and a few months later, unsung feminist pioneer Miriam asks Bernie if he’ll marry her. Almost immediately after he says yes (in the most awkward, bumbling manner possible), Miriam gets a taste of life as the wife of a Guardsman.

A nasty Nor’easter splits two oil tankers in half off the Massachusetts coast. Bernie, who works in nearby Chatham Station on Cape Cod, is instructed to look for the SS Pendleton, even though there has been no contact from the Pendleton, the Chatham office only has an educated guess where the Pendleton is due to a malfunctioning radar, and there’s a good chance that Bernie’s crew will get stranded on a sand bar before reaching the deep blue sea. The de facto captain of the Pendleton is Ray Sybert (Affleck), an unpopular engine room lifer who knows the ship better than anyone on board, and must convince the crew that he can lead them, or at least keep them alive the longest.

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Movie Review: “Out of the Furnace”

Starring
Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker
Director
Scott Cooper

Christian Bale hands out his own brand of justice in the revenge drama “Out of the Furnace,” but don’t expect Alfred or Commissioner Gordon to help out the former Dark Knight. Instead, the film features an all-star cast under the direction of Scott Cooper in a story about retribution, loss and broken spirits in the Rust Belt of America.

With the rapid intensity of a horse race, the film opens with Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) pulling into a country drive-in theater. He asks his date (Dendrie Taylor) to remove her hot dog from the bun and shoves it down her throat. When an onlooker sees DeGroat’s boorish behavior, he sets out to remind him of what a gentleman is. Unfortunately, that act causes him to be beaten to a pulp, to the point where other men are scared to help the would-be hero.

However, the furnace in the title refers to the Carrie Furnace located in Braddock, Pennsylvania, where the Rust Belt serves more as a lead blanket, suffocating those who live there to the point where escape is rarely an option. It’s here that steel worker Russell Baze (Bale) solemnly toils away at the mill, while having a constant reminder that the place that pays his bills also left his father slowly and painfully dying of cancer. Russell’s girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) is cooking up another kind of heat for Russell in the hopes that he’ll make an honest woman out of her complete with bouncing baby Bazes.

Russell already has kid problems in the form of his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), a soldier always looking for a quick score, but always ending up in debt to the local bookie and tavern owner John Petty (Willem Dafoe). When Russell tries to bail out Rodney from his latest loan, the night ends with him serving a stretch in prison. Upon his release, he learns that the world has moved on without him. Rodney is even deeper in debt and suffering from PTSD, finding his solace in bare knuckle fights, which often require him to take a dive. Lena has moved on with the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker), and both Rodney and John Petty are going to realize that clearing your debts is easier said than done, especially when those debts are to DeGroat.

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