In this explosive crime thriller, tough no nonsense cop ‘Big Nick’ (Gerrard Butler) faces off with criminal mastermind Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), in a tale that blurs the lines between good and bad.
Den of Thieves doesn’t show us anything we haven’t seen before but some clever twists and turns nearly makes the hefty running time of two hours and twenty minutes seem fast paced.
In a typical tale of cops and robbers, the plot follows a team of military trained bank robbers planning a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank and a hardened unit of the LA County Sherriff department.
However, the roles of the two main characters are almost reversed as Butler’s character seems like a villain who acts more like a gangster than he does a cop, while Schreiber’s character acts more like a soldier than he does a criminal.
Christian Gudegast’s directorial debut does manage to establish a feeling of tension from the offset, but there is a fussiness to the opening scenes with obsessive labelling of each and every location that acts as more of a distraction than anything else.
Den of Thieves is definitely about less talk more action, and the plot focuses more on the how not the why. With such a long runtime the brief attempts at trying to add depth were poorly executed.
There is a huge lack of character development and we have no idea why Merrimen does what he does or where his motivation comes from.
On the other hand, we do see an attempt to humanize Nick with a subplot in which his wife leaves him and take his kids with her. However, his reaction comes across as insincere and is completely out of character. It is then suddenly dropped and just adds unnecessary length to the film.
O’Shea Jackson Junior gives a great performance as getaway driver Donnie, and is a pleasure to watch. His character acts as a bridge between both sides, however as with the other characters, his lack of development makes it seem like he doesn’t care what side he is really on.
The lead actors give excellent performances and, just like their characters, deal with what they’re given and try make it work, as is the case with the movie’s script. It is extremely repetitive and the somewhat overuse of slang and profanity feels forced.
There are a number of scenes with less dialogue and they are amongst the best, particularly one where Big Nick and Merrimen have a wordless encounter at a shooting range. This scene creates palpable tension between the two and shows how good the film could have been if it wasn’t for the forced dialogue.
The action sequences and visuals are done quite well and show off Gudegast’s skill as a director. They create some exciting moments and have nice attention to detail, but the bullets do run out eventually.
Overall, Den of Thieves is not overly original or ground-breaking but at times is gripping and exciting. In a month that’s renowned for lack-lustre movie releases, this film is one of the best of a bad bunch.