Den of Thieves Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
When a powerful crew of gangsters start robbing armoured trucks, Detective Nick O'Brien enters a game of cat and mouse to bring them down.
Director: Christian Gudegast
Cast: Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson, Evan Jones, Moe McRae, Cooper Andrews, Dawn Olivieri & Charline St. Charles
Run Time: 140 min.
US Release: 19 January 2018
UK Release: 02 February 2018
German Release: 01 February 2018
Well, this is something I did not expect; I left the Den of Thieves screening actually liking it and here I was sure this was going to be yet another cheap, over-the-top, action flick that stars everybody’s favourite actor Gerard Butler. Den of Thieves, also known as Criminal Squad in Germany and France, is the directorial debut by Christian Gudegast, whom Butler met at the shooting in London Has Fallen. While I wouldn’t call this heist-thriller a copy of Heat, it definitely borrows heavily from some specific plot-points of Michael Mann’s crime hit. So, ladies and gents tighten your seatbelts as I take you through my analysis.
After a successful heist on an armoured truck, Detective Nick O’Brien (Butler) and his elite unit of sheriffs are brought in, to solve the case and catch the outlaws. Their first lead is a young barkeeper named Donnie (Jackson Jr.), who guides them to Merrimen (Schreiber), leader of the robbery crew and planning their next coup. As both groups keep running into each other routinely, a tactical game ensues that will lead all of them down a dark path.
As stated above, this is not a direct clone of Heat but when it borrows from it, the references are blatantly obvious. The opening scene, in particular, is inspired by Mann’s 90s classic, resembling the notorious beginning nearly beat-to-beat. The interaction between both parties is also taken from the relationship between Vincent Hanna Neil McCauley. I ain’t saying that it is a bad thing, as many movies nowadays are partially copying ideas from others, yet Den of Thieves feels at times awkward because if you saw Heat, you can’t shake the feeling that you already saw a lot of the sequences.
Nevertheless, Christian Gudegast who also wrote the script to this movie managed to develop a fairly good story, something that I wasn’t expecting when I went to watch this action-thriller. The beginning might be a little bumpy, using way too many heist and bad cop clichés but the story is still entertaining and it had me hooked from the second act onwards. The last segment is a thrill ride from beginning to end and I was clinging to my seat, not sure which side to root for. The twist in the last ten minutes, though, is complete gibberish and makes no sense whatsoever. The dialogue contains a lot of macho-cheese and silly one-liners, not taking itself seriously in that compartment but it also surprises with more grounded talks.
Gerard Butler plays Detective ‘Big Nick’ O’Brien, leader of a Sheriffs Dept. unit. Nick is a typical depiction of the bad cop persona; he drinks too much, cheats on his wife and uses physical force to obtain what he wants, believing he is above the law. To say the truth, until the last act where he shows another side of his personality, Big Nick is not a particularly likeable character. Butler himself was very committed to the role, beefing up a couple of pounds but over-acted as always in most of his scenes.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. portrays the persona of Donnie Wilson making a good appearance and proving that he has more talent as an actor than his father. I felt sympathy for this man at first, as he made some choices in his youth, which got him in trouble. This character is the one that evolves the most during the plot and even though I applauded that, the last ten minutes of the movie showed a side of Wilson I did not buy for a minute.
Pablo Schreiber also gives a decent rendition of gangster-boss Merrimen, yet I found him very dull. The audience isn’t given a reason as to why he turned to crime, which would have helped to make the character relatable. Merrimen just gives orders, looks hard and threatens people. Schreiber doesn’t radiate charisma for this part, as De Niro did.
I was surprised by 50 Cent’s role, which is nothing more than a simple side-character. Ironically it is also his best cinematic performance I saw him give so far. Same goes for Mo McRae, who plays pretty much the same character as 50 Cent but standing on the opposite spectrum.
Gudegast managed to direct a fairly competent action-heist thriller, considering that this is his debut picture, and cinematographer Terry Stacey did a very fine job. The movie contains quite a few beautiful night shots of L.A. but what stands out the most is the gorgeous filmed action sequences. The choreography is fantastic, enhancing the tension, and looks tactically realistic, as if watching actual cops and professional gangsters fighting each other.
Verdict: I left the theatres absolutely confused about this action-thriller, not sure what to think of it. On one side, it tries to stand on its own feet, on the other, it borrows so much from Michael Mann’s Heat that it borders on plagiarism and that for one gave - at least in my opinion - a bit of a mixed signal because you can’t stop comparing the two films. The script is fine and the story well written, even though it starts off with a few missteps here and there but the strong last arc makes up for it. My issue concerning the plot is about the need to use clichéd elements of the genre and then there is the absurd last scene, which came out of the blue and made no sense whatsoever. Gerard Butler overacts in a lot of scenes, as always, but also delivers some fantastic moments; especially in the action segments that look amazing! I liked O’Shea Jackson Jr. but found Pablos Schreiber’s character too boring, even though he gave a fair performance. I will give Den of Thieves a 6 out of 10.
Did you watch Den of Thieves yet? If so, what was your impression of this heist-flick? Leave a comment below and if you enjoyed this review, don’t forget to like and share. Thank you very much!