Awash with coolly maintained tension, this crime heist film fares well in bringing forward a great amount of unease and lurking drama but not so well in clear cut shots and plot progression. It seems as if they not only try to fit a lot of cast members in but a lot of narrative too.
Successfully completing a bank job, a group led by Michael Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor) soon learns from no nonsense Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) that another heist must be pulled if they want their earned money. All of them realise that they must use code 999 – police murder, to distract the force and achieve the work but smart Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) may be a thorn in their side.
(spoilers of story will follow)
First of all, this film has a tonally similar presence to that of ‘The Town’ and ‘Sicario’, in that it executes a wonderful amount of brooding tautness. The reins of this unravelling story feel tight as if being pulled back, letting the four man gang struggle against each other for the cash. It only increases in tension and interest because of the fact half of this team are working policemen, the action of them clipping on badges near the start being a fantastic character/plot development to elevate the drama.
All good crime thrillers must have at least a sequence that makes you feel on edge, the tensions twisting and manifesting as we watch not knowing where it’ll turn. Gladly this film passes with at least three meaty moments that bring in that feeling. The first is a nerve-wracking raid into and through a house as policeman Chris Allen squares behind a cop shield trying to find the perp. Then another tense and more character filled episode plays out as Chris treads through a dreary building in some projects, with this comes dramatic irony as we know what may play out with criminally associated Marcus Atwood setting up the trap.
We never know who may survive, who may pull the trigger and what the outcome will be and that makes this an engaging film, even if the beginning of the movie doesn’t give that good impression. After a hushed and dark conversation in the car with all of the heist crew, we’re rushed to the bank and then a Kosher factory where other characters step in, then we’re introduced to Chris and later the eccentric Sergeant Detective Jeffrey. In short, unlike this film’s script, the film begins in a way with too much going on and throughout it does cling onto that effect.
John Hillcoat is fantastic in directing the long tense moments but when it picks up in action or exposition, it appears like little pieces get dropped, even small scenes feel like they confuse to the story. The whole Sweetpea meeting being one of those examples. Then, concerning the whole power play with Irina which never lifts off the ground, the aspect of a former flame and a child caught up in the business never excites in the same way the back and forth between Allen and Atwood does. Perhaps Hillcoat believes this film is more striking than it is, but he’s right in getting a neat trend of red through the feature and providing us with tidy tension.
Casey Affleck is the most interesting talent in this film, the performance he gives as the motivated Chris is subtle but impacting and we root for him through the case. Anthony Mackie is also really interesting here as the torn Marcus, he has street smarts and tough attitude but he showcases another side too. Woody Harrelson goes for broke in whipping the rug from under everyone’s feet as the funny and loose firework figure of Jeffrey Allen. Chiwetel Ejiofor is languished with a less than substantial role and ends up with a lot of scenes with Kate Winslet who though bearable and convincing with her accent, is a character that could have been left out more or entirely. It is a movie with a sensational cast from Affleck to Teresa Palmer to Aaron Paul, who all do well in this sometimes overstuffed story.
Intense, red and triply suspenseful, this is a movie that deserves a watch for interesting developments and ‘Heat’ inspired crime drama but it’s not always overly exciting and it loses focus from time to time.