Bad cop movies — whether bad movies about cops or movies about bad cops — can be like those Arctic core samples from which scientists determine long-gone CO2 levels, only they're measuring American anxiety about police authority. Pop on John Hillcoat's agonized pulp thriller Triple 9 in 20 years, and you'll at least have evidence of the current wariness toward the militarization of that now-stouter-than-thin blue line. This is a bad cop movie in both senses of the phrase -- one thick with murderers, dope-sniffers and special-ops monsters, all prepared to put their own concerns and safety above those of the public. An exemplary cast runs through the motions of shooting innocents and betraying each other. The story isn't complex, but its telling is tangled. A character suggests to the Mafia one of those ideas so crazy that it just might work — in this case, the "Triple 9" of the title. (It's police code for an officer killed in the line of duty.) The mobsters have tasked the team — featuring non-entity characters played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Norman Reedus and Clifton Collins, Jr. — with thieving a Who Cares from an Impregnable Wherever. How to buy the time for the job? Trick a local thug into assassinating an earnest newbie cop (Casey Affleck) who has harassed him. The logic: Every P.O. in Hotlanta will rush to that scene instead of the heist. The ending is grim, which perhaps is supposed to say something about crime not paying. But since Triple 9 riffs on, rather than examines, our ambivalence toward police state-ism, it illuminates nothing for us today.