Den of Thieves, 2018.
Directed by Christian Gudecast.
Starring Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Pablo Schreiber, Evan Jones, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Dawn Olivieri, Brian Van Holt, Jordan Bridges, Eric Braeden, Maurice Compte, Sonya Balmores, Cooper Andrews, Meadow Williams, Kaiwi Lyman, Jay Dobyns, Nick Loeb, Mo McRae, and Jermaine Rivers.
A gritty crime saga which follows the lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank.
Believe it or not, I’m always up for a cheesy action romp headlined by Gerard Butler, as he knows his wheelhouse and the extent of his capabilities as an actor. It has gotten to a point where he elevates mostly terrible concepts into dumb fun. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Den of Thieves (the directorial debut from Christian Gudecast, who served as a writer on London has Fallen). However, it’s not the direction or execution that should be blamed, but rather the ineptitude of Gudecast’s own script co-penned with Paul Scheuring that crams in multiple unnecessary subplots, somehow unable to add depth to any of the cardboard cops and robbers characters.
Put it this way, Den of Thieves is billed as an action thriller centered on a band of criminals planning and pulling off an intricately detailed and elaborate heist on the thought to be impenetrable Los Angeles Federal Reserve Bank, but the first half focuses on LA County Sheriff Nick’s (Gerard Butler) marital problems which actually does nothing to provide empathy for him, as he is quite the ruthless authoritative figure in a position of power, frequently abandoning all diplomacy to jump headfirst into violence. Also, his character is written as a jokester who makes quips during appropriate and awkward times (such as the aforementioned domestic tension) and genuinely seems like he could fly off the handle at any second and start physically abusing his wife.
I know what you’re thinking because trust me, I thought it too while watching this mess, but maybe police officers are the villains. Nope, as Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber from Orange is the New Black and American Gods) plays a hardened and tattooed lowlife (he is described as being incredibly smart despite having recently been released from a penitentiary, all within the same short burst of a sentence) who is also plain and boring. Am I supposed to root for him because Den of Thieves dug up 50 Cent from his candy shop to stand around here as a henchman desperately trying but failing to exude some charisma? To be fair, Fiddy does succeed for a brief moment in a completely random and pointless scene that sees him and the rest of his group comically threatening the new boyfriend of his teenage daughter prior to their first date. Keep in mind that all of this superfluous, worthless nonsense is bloating a movie that is 140 minutes.
Caught in between a rock and a hard place is Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr., the talented son of gangsta-rapper turned actor Ice Cube), a bartender serving as the thieves getaway driver. He’s also beginning to face pressure from Nick’s department who is catching on that something big is about to go down between the network of thugs making smalltime moves that don’t add up just yet. Well, it’s obvious to the audience, even though everything is slowly explained in what feels like a 10-minute debriefing sequence that constantly cuts back-and-forth to the police station and criminal hideout. On that note, there is a segment of the actual robbery that meanders, going on and on for what feels like forever; admittedly it is elaborate and necessary for the big revelation at the end to hold a shred of credibility, but it is tiresome, leaving viewers begging for bullets to start popping off.
Circling back around my original point (it’s impossible to go one sentence without thinking of five more flaws to illuminate here), Jackson is serviceable in his role and knows how to deliver the performance in a way that goes along with the twist. He knows how to play both sides, but realistically this is no The Departed and what’s really happening can be spotted with little detective work. Furthermore, he is also the only likable character in the entire movie. With that said, hopefully, he doesn’t continue to get typecast in similar roles, as Ingrid Goes West proved that he does not need to be limited to clashes with the police to stand out as a terrific performer.
Let it be known that once Den of Thieves reaches the selling point heist, the script and direction do rebound a little bit, most importantly finding focus. Various side stories are thankfully tossed to the wayside, but it’s also a frustrating reminder of the amateur craftsmanship behind the whole endeavor. Gerard Butler eventually gets to stop acting like a belligerent, drunk (I’m not entirely sure if the character is always drunk or if he possibly was showing up to the set intoxicated, because let’s face it, that’s the only way to act your way through something this terrible) clown shoes of a sheriff when the factions finally engage in car chases and shootouts. Additionally, the action is occasionally worthy of applause, notably a confrontation making creative use of jam-packed traffic.
Regardless, when the deed is done and it’s clear who played who, Den of Thieves is still basic cops and robbers shenanigans containing forgettable characters and generic motives. Only line up for a ticket if, for some inexplicable reason, you really want to see Gerard Butler shout, pout, and attack everything in sight as a loathsome hotheaded tank for 2 1/2 hours. Honestly, if the filmmakers cut out the numerous filler subplots and took a more playful approach, Den of Thieves might have been entertaining.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com