Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - JIM MITCHELL


DI­REC­TOR Chris­tian Gude­gast

CAST Ger­ard But­ler, Pablo Schreiber, O’shea Jack­son Jr., Cur­tis “50 Cent” Jack­son, Evan Jones

PLOT When a gang of ban­dits spear­headed by the fresh-from-jail Mer­ri­men (Schreiber) causes vi­o­lent havoc across LA, com­pro­mised vet­eran cop “Big Nick” Flana­gan (Ger­ard But­ler) is hell-bent on shut­ting them down, and their ex­e­cu­tion of an elab­o­rate bank heist... A HEIST MOVIE should be epic, riv­et­ing and mus­cu­lar. First-time di­rec­tor Chris­tian Gude­gast at least achieves the lat­ter in

Den Of Thieves. Only, it’s the wrong kind of mus­cu­lar — the kind com­ing with a testos­terone over­load that stymies any chance of nu­ance.

On one side of the chase are the out­laws, a crack group of bank rob­bers made up of ex-mil­i­tary and ex-jail­birds. Led by the hu­mour­less Mer­ri­men (Amer­i­can Gods’ Schreiber), the out­laws fea­ture the as­sorted tal­ents of Levi (Jack­son), trig­ger-happy Bosco (Jones) and new re­cruit, get­away driver Don­nie (O’shea Jack­son Jr. of

Straight Outta Comp­ton fame).

They’re your typ­i­cal mus­cle-bound, ware­house-dwelling crims, ban­ter­ing and re­crim­i­nat­ing be­tween cal­lis­then­ics and strat­egy ses­sions as they plan the ul­ti­mate heist. It’s an elab­o­rate gam­bit to steal $US30 mil­lion des­tined for the shred­der from LA’S high se­cu­rity Fed­eral Re­serve Bank.

On the other side are the reg­u­la­tors, a crack group of LA County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment de­tec­tives. They’re your stan­dard hard-bit­ten lot, the type who will throw crime scene foren­sics con­ven­tion to the wind, pick­ing up a donut box near a slain vic­tim for an in­stant cop-is­sue break­fast. They don’t take crims down to the sta­tion; they just shoot them and fill out the pa­per­work. Lead­ing the unit is “Big Nick” Flana­gan (a hag­gard-look­ing But­ler), an­other hoary, hard-drink­ing, cocky cop who has ne­glected his fam­ily for the job.

From the get-go, it’s clear that Gude­gast, who co-wrote the screen­play with Paul Scheur­ing has taken, among other genre clas­sics, Michael Mann’s 1995 epic Heat as in­spi­ra­tion.

But Den of Thieves falls spec­tac­u­larly short. While the ac­tion and cin­e­matog­ra­phy is slick, the pro­duc­tion doesn’t have much of an op­por­tu­nity to at­tempt a Mann-es­que evo­ca­tion of gritty LA vis­tas (it was mostly filmed in At­lanta). And the ut­terly en­gross­ing Pa­cino-de Niro stand­off isn’t even re­motely com­pa­ra­ble to the su­per­fi­cial one be­tween But­ler and Schreiber.

It would seem that Gude­gast has taken in­spi­ra­tion from Heat’s epic run­ning time too — Den verges on a whop­ping two-and-half hours. It’s a flabby ex­trav­a­gance for an unin­spired, cliché-rid­den screen­play that has lit­tle to say. The project took some 15 years to get to the screen, and you can only as­sume a pre­cious­ness and slav­ish com­mit­ment to the ma­te­rial is the cul­prit for the fi­nal prod­uct.

The cast — bar a flat Fiddy — do the best they can with the mea­gre ma­te­rial. Schreiber and O’shea Jr. are solid, but mar­quee star But­ler (who also pro­duces) treads wa­ter, yet again play­ing the un­remit­tingly blokey rogue.

Den of Thieves is a heist flick that has no am­bi­tion to stand out from the pack as we’ve seen it all be­fore.

VER­DICT A stale crime saga wannabe that’s Heat-lite-lite, Den of Thieves’ stylis­tic panache can’t make up for its ut­ter pre­dictabil­ity. Clichéd and bloated, it’s an unin­spired paean to a mod­ern heist clas­sic.

Garbage day al­ways made Ger­ard grumpy.

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