DIR/WRI: Christian Gudegast • PRO: Gerard Butler, Mark Canton, Tony Grazia, Alan Siegel, Tucker Tooley • DOP: Terry Stacey • ED: David Cox, Joel Cox, Nathan Godley • MUS: Cliff Martinez • DES: Kara Lindstrom • CAST: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Jordan Bridges
Films and video games are two separate art forms and never the twain shall meet unless it’s in an exceptionally bad adaptation. Den of Thieves doesn’t seem to understand this. Its characters move and talk like they’re in a Call of Duty game about cops and robbers. Interspersed between scenes of beefcakes in tight t-shirts and scuffed leather jackets shooting each other are some truly awkward scenes of family drama and a lot of tactical planning. It’s something only Gerard Butler could make in a way that is painfully unironic and, at times, painfully offensive.
Gerard Butler plays the hard-bitten Sheriff Big Nick of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who is keeping tabs on ex-military bank robbers Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), Levi Benson (50 Cent) and Donnie Wilson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). The gun-toting, brass-balled muscle men all eventually come together in one big heist and climactic gun battle that, while satisfying, is a slog to get towards. Oh and Big Nick has some family drama that is never resolved and isn’t worth talking about.
The script from director and producer Christian Gudegast puts together a decent heist sequence that takes an hour and forty minutes to get to. Building up to the gung-ho sequence of gunfire and tightrope tension are ho-hum scenes of family drama and police corruption that will either offend, bore or fizzle out before anything worthwhile can be squeezed from them. All of the characters outside of the leads look like stuntmen and MMA fighters drafted in just for the purposes of getting shot.
Gerard Butler’s Big Nick, stupid name by the way, borders on the edge of the almost-racist, trigger-happy cop character that would have passed in the 1980s but only serves as discomfiting now. Schreiber and 50 Cent are essentially meatheads, calculating meatheads but meatheads nonetheless. The twist comes in the form of the supposedly out of his depth Donnie Wilson. Still, since Wilson is so one-note and flat, the twist never feels earned or necessary. Ironically Den of Thieves, despite all the military jargon and loud gunshots, feels very safe.
There are moments of depth to Gudegast’s film. Unfortunately they come in the form of long tracking shots where no characters are heard or seen. Set in Los Angeles, these long, gliding movements only serve to remind that the city has far more character than those that occupy it. Gudegast shoots the action steady in a way that calls to mind neither the smoothness of John Wick nor the choppiness of the Bourne series. It rests somewhere in the middle and that is probably the best way to sum up Den of Thieves.
Were it not for the relatively exciting heist and the thrilling gun battle that finishes it, Den of Thieves would be a very bad film. Instead, it flounders just below the average mark. It pays homage to the likes of Heat but never comes close to emulating or even imitating the greatness of previous heist films.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Den of Thieves is released 2nd February 2018
Den of Thieves– Official Website
This is far from the best film you will ever see but in a time when I’m often left thinking why did I bother, this was a refreshing change. From start to finish, this goes along at just the right pace and the 140 minutes soon goes by. The acting is good, the storyline is clever and smart and isn’t merely a copycat of other heist films.