DEN OF THIEVES
OUT NOW / 140 MINS RATED MA15+
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.