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The red band trailer for John Hillcoat's upcoming ensemble heist drama Triple 9 is here and these are my three main takeaways:
1. I am absolutely here for whatever stone-cold, big-haired crime boss Kate Winslet is playing.
2. Who knew "This Little Piggy" could sound so eerie?
3. Why does this even exist?
This last point is in reference to the trailer and not the film, which, coming from the vigorous Australian director of Lawless, The Road, and The Proposition is not to be automatically discounted, even if its February release doesn't bode overwhelmingly well for its prospects. The trailer for Hillcoat's latest is selling many things, including some appropriately grimey cinematography and a star-studded cast that includes everyone from Casey Affleck and Chiwetel Ejiofor to Winslet and Woody Harrelson. But, first and foremost, it's selling violence, or rather a shocking amount of violence that includes everything from three decapitated heads resting on the hood of a car and a horrifying bullet-to-the-head to a trunkful of bound-and-gagged human baggage and a concluding highway shoot-out that sends drivers and passengers running in terror as guns go a-blazing, blasting holes into windshields of vehicles that may or may not be occupied.
I'm not trying to suggest that this accelerated depiction of violence is "wrong" or "right" within the specific dramaturgical circumstances of Hillcoat's film. It may very well be perfectly suitable and even obligatory for the surely savage story at-hand, seemingly centered around dirty cops and kingpins. Rather, what confuses me is the use of the red-band trailer itself as promotional device for this particular project. The very existence of a red-band trailer, comprised of "restricted" material intended for viewing by "mature" audiences, suggests that a movie contains more edgy, titillating, and arguably "adult" material than the MPAA thinks should be seen by a wider (i.e. "younger") audience. In theaters, the red-band trailer typically accompanies R-rated entertainments and occasionally PG-13 ones as well, although this is apparently illegal. Online, however, these trailers can be viewed by anyone. Never mind that the Yahoo age-verification wall can be fooled by any individual smart enough to enter literally any year earlier than 1998. Yahoo doesn't even need to provide such a barrier, since the trailer has already leaked to YouTube in less than five hours in all of its gory glory.
My frustration, then, lies with the trailer's makers, who have decided that the best way to sell this film is to edit together a clip comprised of its most brutal footage, in which guns flash by at a breezy clip, bathed in Spring Breakers-aping Day-Glo and often highlighted in blatantly phallocentric poses. At one point, a barely-clothed woman licks one to the tune of Cypress Hill's "Pigs," which you can barely hear over the sound of firing shots and popping glocks. By this point, the clip has ceased to be a trailer. Instead, it's just a music video.
Once again, this isn't about the movie itself, although there remains a fine line by which filmmakers are either honoring the very real and certainly very unsettling presence of violence in our world or merely indulging both their own bloodlust and what they perceive to be ours. The same dichotomy could be applied to trailers and the editors who create them.
It's about more than just simply selling tickets. It's about selling an image of cool that will hopefully be latched on to and carried all the way to the multiplex come February. What happens when viewers actually try to emulate that image, when the explosive, propulsive violence in a widely-accessible trailer (because, please, let's stop pretending a 7-year-old couldn't retrieve this with the right devices) actually inspires explosive, propulsive violence in the world we actually inhabit?
At this point, it's naïve to pretend that aestheticized violence and real-world carnage aren't linked to one another in some metaphysical way, shape, or form. In December 2013, the premiere of Quentin Tarantino's typically gruesome Django Unchained was pushed back a week following the Sandy Hook shootings, as a particularly pissy Tarantino grumpily rebuffed further inquiries into his films' violent tendencies while star Jamie Foxx admitted that, yes, violence in film probably does a play a larger role in real-world instances than we often care to acknowledge. But even aside from the Django controversy, far too many studies have been conducted for us to believe anything less. And there has been far too great an upswing in recent instances for the media to not be implicated.
I know, this is a lot of weight for one trailer to carry. But, frankly, it's a responsibility that should be realized and addressed. Without the surrounding context of an entire film, the violence in a trailer is just violence, the gun sprays only gun sprays. There is none of the deeper, critical questioning (nor educational purposes) that any film involving violence of this measure should tote. I'm also not sure if it was perhaps the wisest move to release a trailer this unapologetically gun-friendly with the Oregon school shootings still newly, appallingly fresh in our heads. Although, with the rate of gun violence in this country being what it currently is, I suppose there is rarely a time when this trailer would be proper.
The Triple 9 may be more outrightly vicious with its violence than most spots, but it's hardly the first. I can't imagine getting through this trailer in an actual theater, at least not at a time when I can barely make it past the opening credits without clocking the exits. I still stir in my seat every time I see a person stand up and can't help but glance backward any time I hear a door open.
Everyone likely has their own personal breaking point when it comes to onscreen violence. I think I may have just reached mine.
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