Writing Explosive Action: Triple 9

A wild mix of car chases, gun fights and volatile characters

With a stellar cast, taut script and explosive action, Triple 9 delivers a startlingly fresh take on the classic heist thriller.  When a bank-robbing crew of corrupt cops and ex-Special Forces soldiers is forced to attempt a nearly impossible heist for a ruthless mobster, they decide their only hope of survival is to distract the entire Atlanta police force with a “999” — cop code for “officer down.”

Tripple 9

Anthony Mackie and Casey Affleck in Tripple 9

In the film ex-Special Forces member Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) leads a crew of corrupt police officers and former soldiers (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr., Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus) in a daring bank robbery that ends in a frenzied freeway shootout.

As Detective Sergeant Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) investigates the spectacular crime, he is unaware that his own nephew, straight-arrow cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) has unknowingly been partnered with one of the robbers on Atlanta’s gang task force.

When ruthless Russian-Israeli mob boss Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) strong-arms the crew into attempting one last, seemingly impossible robbery, they decide their best hope is to divert the entire police force’s attention by staging a “999” incident — cop code for “officer down.”

The Inspiration

Mat Cooke

Matt Cook (Writer) is a screenwriter, director and producer of various studio and independent films who has written for Fox, New Regency, DreamWorks and Sony. His work includes writing the forthcoming By Way of Helena, and is currently writing Joe Petrosino for Lionsgate and The Apostle Paul for Hugh Jackman at Warner Bros. He is also writing and executive producing the HBO miniseries Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War with director Peter Berg. A veteran of the war in Iraq, Cook was raised in the tiny three-stoplight town of Castroville, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin.

Writer Matt Cook got the inspiration for his first feature film, Triple 9, while swapping stories with a buddy during a road trip through the desert.

“I was driving from Phoenix to Las Vegas with one of my best friends, who’s an undercover narcotics agent for the Phoenix Police Department,” Cook recalls.

“I used to be in the Army so I told him some war stories, and then he started telling about this ‘999’ call he went on. I stopped him and asked him what that was and he explained that it’s the highest-priority police code. If a cop gets wounded in a gun battle, he calls a 999 and police everywhere stop what they’re doing, converge on the downed officer and basically keep going until they catch the perp. Then I asked my buddy, ‘What’s going on with the rest of the city?’ And he was like, ‘Well it’s basically un-policed.’”

Realizing the concept was rife with dramatic possibilities, Cook started outlining the script for Triple 9 as soon as he got back home to Los Angeles.

“The idea opens up this theme of loyalty because when your brother cop calls you, you answer,” he says.

“We wanted to play with the question: ‘How far will a guy go for his brother?’ and then flip that on its head: ‘What is the worst possible thing you can do?’”

John Hilcoat

John Hillcoat with Kate Winslet during filming of Triple 9. John Hillcoat (Director, Producer) helmed The Proposition (2005), and most recently directed The Road (2009), an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s prize-winning novel. Born in Queensland, Australia, Hillcoat was raised in the U.S. and Canada. At a young age he had the opportunity to develop an interest in fine arts and, returning to Australia, he graduated from Melbourne’s Swinburne Film School. After directing several shorts, his first feature film followed when he co-wrote and directed Ghosts… of the Civil Dead (1988). Simultaneous to his feature film career, he directed music videos and collaborated on projects for such artists as Nick Cave, Einstürzende Neubauten, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, Muse, Robert Plant, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Hillcoat is currently in development on several new projects. He continues to direct internationally award-winning music videos and commercials.


Once completed, the screenplay caught the eye of Australian director John Hillcoat, renowned for his brutal 2005 western The Proposition and sensationally bleak adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic adventure drama The Road.

“I’d been looking at a lot of crime thrillers, and what really intrigued me about Matt’s script was the ‘999’ idea, which I’d never heard of before,” Hillcoat says.

“The code raises this great moral dilemma in this genre of cops and criminals which has generated so much material. Matt had this gem of an idea that provided a fresh approach to that world.”

Cook considered Hillcoat to be the dream director for Triple 9.

“When I finished the script they asked me which directors I wanted to send it to and John Hillcoat was my very first choice,” Cook says. “The Proposition is one of my all-time favorite movies so I was over the moon when John read the script and said yes. He thinks outside the box in ways that made the story very colorful and thoughtful.”

A fresh villain

While trying to come up with a fresh villain for his contemporary urban police-corruption saga, Cook found inspiration in the so-called “Kosher Mafia.” “We’ve seen the Italian mafia so many times, we’ve seen the Irish mob, we’ve seen the Mexican cartels, but we wanted to do something unique,” says the screenwriter. “I did a bunch of research and discovered that there are a lot of really powerful Russian Israelis who are in prison for gun trafficking and other crimes. These guys are billionaires but for some reason they are not very well known. We also learned that these Russian-Israeli criminal organizations are typically driven by one person. The leaders are almost mythic, kind of like Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects.”

Kate Winslet brings a terrifying combination of searing intelligence and quiet menace to the character of cold-blooded crime boss Irina Vlaslov. Nominated for seven Academy Awards® including 2015’s Steve Jobs, the Oscar®-winning actress rarely appears in action films. But the chance to play a Russian accent and drill deeply into Irina’s heart of darkness proved too enticing to resist. “Instead of another male-dominated criminal organization, we had this idea of Irina as this Lady Macbeth type of character who was smart and very layered,” Cook says.  Director Hillcoat marveled at Winslet’s intensity when she turned up on set. “For Irina, we needed someone who could command respect and actually be more powerful than any other character in the story. Kate Winslet has this incredible commitment to immersing herself in characters but at the same time, she comes from that world of British theater, so she brought a meticulous level of detail to her accent.” Cook imagined Irina as a vivid presence on the page, but Winslet took the character to a whole new level. “Kate brings a depth to the character that goes way beyond the monologues on the page. You really can’t take your eyes off her. You really believe that Irina has been on missions with the Mossad. At the same time, you feel the love she has for Felix and the envy she feels for her sister’s beauty. All of that comes out of Kate in ways you just can’t explain.”

Tripple Nine

Triple 9 offers audiences a wild mix of car chases, gun fights and volatile characters of varying degrees of criminality who are well-trained in the art of war but poorly equipped to deal with their personal demons. “I hope people take away from this film the fact that it’s an incredible slice of life which has a heightened sense of cinema,” Ejiofor says. “The emotional twists and turns of the film really got me because you support one character for a moment and then it twists around and you’re instantly in someone else’s pocket. You learn different things about different people all the way through the journey. By the end you realize you’ve been looking at a very complex system that peels back the modern world like layers of the onion.” Taking classic themes of betrayal and brotherhood to hyper-violent extremes, Triple 9 offers an action-packed vision of contemporary urban power structures corrupted from the inside out.

“Our characters aren’t just cartoon black and white,” Hillcoat observes. “I think what audiences will appreciate about Triple 9 is that it’s an action thriller rooted in real flesh and blood characters who are full of unexpected twists and turns.”

Aaron Paul pictures Triple 9 as a character-driven action tragedy. “Triple 9 is really kind of two films in one,” he explains. “There are the good guys and there are the bad guys, and what’s great is that you’re not sure who to root for. It’s a bunch of corrupt people being controlled by the Russian mafia who have to kill one of their own to pull off their next big job, so it gets very hairy. If you like good storytelling and really dark stuff, then you’re going to love Triple 9.”