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There’s no cop Hollywood loves more than the ethically suspect cop. It’s a tradition that runs at least as far back as Claude Rains’ Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca, who was so shocked to find gambling going on in the saloon he was a frequent patron of, and goes right through Det. Alonzo Harris as played by Denzel Washington in Training Day, who tried to teach his new partner the way of the streets. While portrayals of good, decent and morally sound police officers are certainly far from rare, the idea of them being compromised in some way seems to make not only for a more interesting story but also for juicier performances.
Entering that canon is the new movie Triple 9. Casey Affleck stars as Chris Allen, a rookie cop who’s about to get more than he bargained for. The city he serves in is home to a branch of the Russian mob helmed by Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), who has her hands in a good chunk of the city’s police force. When those cops are “convinced” by Vlaslov to help her cronies pull off a major heist they set up a distraction that involves Allen being killed across town from the target, pulling the remaining police in the other direction. But things don’t go according to plan and everyone has to deal with the repercussions.
The first poster really works hard to sell this as a violent thriller. A group of masked men, all sporting heavy machine guns, are seen walking through a cloud of smoke in front of a cityscape, clearly in the middle of some sort of criminal activity. The copy at the top tells us “The code on the street is never black and white” so it’s telling us there will be plenty of ethical and moral quandaries being explored in the story. The sizable cast is listed above the title treatment.
A series of character posters was released next, with each one featuring not just the actor and their name but also a quote either from or about that character. The intent here is to provide a short, easily digestible explanation of the character for the audience to sell not only the ensemble cast but also the webs of intrigue that will be presented in the story. They’re all black and white and red to stay consistent with the visuals from the rest of the campaign and keep selling the film as a gritty, violent thriller.
A final one-sheet creates a montage of black-and-white images, each of which show off another member of the cast. In the middle is a bright red block that has the title treatment, the cast list and the copy “The code on the street is never black and white.”
The first trailer – a red-band edition – starts off with Affleck and Harrelson having a drink at a bar, with the latter giving Affleck some advice on the realities of being a cop in a violent world. We then quick cut to a bank robbery in progress, followed by scenes of intense brutality, including a car hood with a bunch of severed heads sitting on it. It’s all gunshots, chases through alleys, shoot-outs, people trapped and bound in car trunks and more from there on out.
We don’t get a real sense of the story or the characters’ relationships to one another here, this is meant to just show that this is an intensely violent movie full of people doing very bad things to one another.
The next trailer starts off by making it clear that there will be ethical compromises that are made in order to survive the streets. We see Affleck’s character start in his new police department before a group of crooks try to rob a bank in a big way, an investigation Affleck and his partner get involved in. But it’s clear there are secrets being kept as we get more hints there are big plans that the bad guys have in store.
Again, there’s more emphasis here on the experience and the attitude the movie will be showing us than on the story. It’s not that there isn’t one, but I get the studio wants us to really feel the compromised morals here and see the fallout from those decisions. It’s trying really, really hard to present the movie as ultra-violent and gritty.
The final trailer starts out again with the back robbery but we soon see that there’s a second job the mob boss wants pulled. In order to setup a distraction the bad guys suggest killing a cop, something that’s sure to pull all the other police toward it and away from whatever it is they’re planning. The rest of the trailer is light on story and heavy on action, just showing off the gritty look and feel of a plot that involves some ethically compromised law enforcement official.
Online and Social
The official site has full-screen video of footage from the trailers playing on the splash page. Over in the right-hand corner is a big button encouraging the visitor to buy tickets and over on the left, below the content menu, is a prompt to watch the restricted trailer.
Moving into that content menu, the first section is for “Videos” and is where you can watch both of the trailers plus the red-band version of the first one along with two clips.
There are about a dozen images in the “Gallery” including a mix of stills and some, but not all, of the character posters covered earlier. Much more interesting is the “Motion Gallery” which has a number of GIFs of shots from the movie. All of the media from these two sections can be shared on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr or downloaded to your hard drive. Also nice is that the branding here is minimal, just a little bug in the corner and not something that drastically interferes with the overall image. So you can use them pretty freely and it’s not *just* about promoting the movie.
“Tumblr” takes you to a standalone site Out Monster The Monster, a reference to a line from the movie. There’s not much to that site, it’s just an infinite scroll Tumblr blog that keeps repeating images over and over and wants you to share it on other social networks. It’s nice looking, but I’m not sure what the purpose of the site is other than to show off someone’s CSS chops.
Back to the main site, “Cast & Crew” has images and character names for the main cast as well as the names of the director and producers but that’s it, no bios or career histories or anything else. “Story” has just one sentence about the movie that describes the genre but not the story of the film itself.
The movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles were used to promote cast appearances, cast Q&As on Twitter and elsewhere and so on. There are countdowns to release and frequent prompts to buy tickets and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot to debut sets the movie up as a personal story that deals with betrayal and conflict between people who trust each other while only secondarily getting around to showing the main heist or any of the violence that seems to be the hallmark of the trailers.
While I didn’t see any myself I’m sure there was plenty of online and outdoor advertising as well.
Media and Publicity
Most of the press seems to have been generated by the release of clips and other official marketing materials. The cast, including Affleck, Reedus and Mackie, made the rounds of the late night talk shows in the week prior to release, including an appearance by Affleck on The Late Show that was noteworthy for its profound awkwardness. Other than that there doesn’t appear to have been a whole lot going on for the movie on this front.
Did I mention that the campaign is trying to sell a sense of realistic grit and violence? Because that’s the overall theme that’s hard to miss here. The marketing practically has the smell of gunpowder coming off it. It really wants you to feel the moral compromises that are being made in the name of expediency, wealth and safety and wants you to feel the danger that’s putting everyone in. In fairness in service of that goal it creates a campaign that has a very nice sense of brand consistency, with that red and black motif permeating all the elements of the push that certainly make it recognizable.
The movie itself looks like…well, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come off like kind of a mess. The story is often secondary in the marketing to the overall feel and tone of the movie, something that’s obvious both in the way the trailers never come out and tell you who all these characters are and how the synopsis on the site doesn’t tell you really anything about the movie itself. I get the sense this is a big cast that’s been assembled around a story that may not make much sense or hold up to much scrutiny.