Den of Thieves
I’ll never forget experiencing the big shootout scene from Michael Mann’s “Heat” for the first time. It’s tuned to perfection in both execution and intensity, creating an action sequence that anyone can watch without any knowledge of the film’s prior events. The film itself is a prime example of how to handle a cops and robbers story. With that being said though, I wasn’t expecting that from “Den of Thieves” when walking into the theater. For one, those are way too high of expectations. Despite liking the cast and what I saw from the trailer, I’d be naive not to admit that the January release date had me worried. After seeing the film, I’ll admit that it wasn’t a bad movie. However, it’s not that good either.
I’ll start with the two best parts of the film. The first is the opening shootout that sets the stage for the rest of the film. There’s great gunplay, the scene has intense moments, and the mistakes made in the scene lead to a smooth introduction of the antagonists. It’s almost like a standoff in a western film: you’re just waiting for that one guy to make a mistake and go for his gun, slightly shaking in excitement for the bullet storm that’s about to manifest. The other best part is the heist in the film. Pablo Schreiber’s Merrimen wants to rob the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. While the trailer makes you think they’re in over their heads, the actual plan and execution is actually well thought out and fun to watch. It doesn’t exactly break new ground (“Logan Lucky” even did one of their ideas a year prior) but it’s fun and executed well enough to be enjoyable in the moment.
Unfortunately, those two moments are the only standouts from the film. While the film’s overall gunplay is good, everything else is either underwhelming or bad. The cast is good but never used very well, the action and heist take an unnecessary backseat in this film for what feels like an hour, the story shows its potential yet does the bare minimum, and there is no clear protagonist. Pablo Schreiber’s Merrimen isn’t the protagonist because, despite being the leader of the group, he’s never given much development or time to shine. We barely see O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s Donnie learn the ropes as the new guy in Merrimen’s group, and Gerard Butler’s Nick Flanagan is too sporadic to be the protagonist. You get three different Butlers in this film: Dramatic Butler, “Tough Boy” Butler, and Nearly Eating the Scenery Butler. While I’ve liked Butler in past films, his character is too all over the place to really care about when it’s all said and done.
It wasn’t until the film was nearing to a close that I realized how much I disliked what it was doing to me. It’s the first time in awhile where I slowly began to dislike a film more and more as it kept going. I was never mad at the film as I was watching; In fact, I stopped caring. In a better film, a climactic shootout between cops and robbers would get me excited and invested. In this film however, all it made me do is sit back, stare at the screen, and wonder whether or not my best friend has the same water bottle that Gerald Butler’s character has.
The film would’ve worked better as a miniseries. You can see throughout the film that director and writer Christian Gudegast has an idea as to why Merrimen’s crew do what they do, why they’re chosen for the jobs, and what makes them such worthy adversaries to Butler’s team of hard cops. It’s kind of astounding to see a film nearly two and a half hours long do almost nothing but squander potential. Currently, “Den of Thieves” is a discount “Heat” with a pinch of “Ocean’s Eleven.” I didn’t hate the experience but I can think of a hundred things better to do with the time I put into it. It should be seen on Netflix in the comfort of your own home and not in the theater.
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Great opening shootout
Interesting and engaging heist
Wasted character potential
Long spurts of no action or heist planning