'Den of Thieves'
‘Den of Thieves’ may not be the worst heist movie ever made, but it sure feels like it at times. The genre should be rooted in great writing, requiring clockwork precision and structure to satisfy. That’s not generally the sort of assignment that should serve as the directorial debut for the screenwriter of ‘London Has Fallen’
It’s not so much that the film is particularly sloppy in its construction, just lazy and generic. It’s the sort of thing that’s hard to remember even while you’re watching it, as if your brain refuses to retain anything that happened in the flick for more than a few minutes at a time.
A tediously long series of introductory scenes set the stage (complete with character name cards laughably suggesting that we’ll remember any of these cardboard cut-outs for longer than the butt-numbing run time). A gang of thieves currently led by Levi (50 Cent) used to be the best in the biz, but are currently operating below their potential because the brains of the operation is in jail. Thankfully, he gets out just in time for the movie to start. He’s the goofily named Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) and he’s got dreams off pulling off a big job to make up for lost time. The requisite cop needed to complete this game of cops-and-robbers is Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler). Caught in the middle of it all is a bartender named Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.). He’s supposed to be the gang’s new wheelman, but also gets blackmailed by Det. Flanagan to provide information from the inside. Yadda yadda yadda… a heist is scheduled to rob the Federal Reserve of $30 million. Let the games begin.
Right from the start, writer/director Christian Gudegast wants you to know he’s making a tough movie about tough guys. Everyone struts rather than walking, as if their monstrous penises are weighing them down. Every character swears as much as possible, drinks heavily, wears leather jackets, and frowns really super hard. It’s a movie about men – the kind that don’t exist outside of movies written by dudes who think their taste in culture should be an expression of their masculinity. Don’t worry, every character does some token nice thing for shading. For the baddies, it’s all rooted in one scene in which they intimidate 50 Cent’s daughter’s prom date, because that’s how bros help bros with daughters, bro. For Butler’s cop, it’s a series of increasingly irritating movie references (as if the movie was released in 1996) and collections of words that seem to resemble jokes without being funny. O’Shea Jackson has it easiest in the empathy department. He actually gets to smile a few times. That helps.
Because Gudegast is so determined to cram in as many monologues and long-winded character beats (signifying nothing) as possible, it takes way too damn long for the actual heist to be planned or executed. By the time it arrives, we realize why. It’s quite a dull scenario that steals liberally from far better heist movies and executes those stolen cues in a far less successful manner. (In perhaps the greatest plagiarizing sin in this whole mess of a movie, the climax knocks off the extraordinary traffic jam shoot-out from ‘Sicario’ and bungles it.) If you can’t see the big twist coming a mile away, you aren’t paying attention. Actually, if you can’t predict every beat in the movie before it happens, chances are you haven’t seen a movie before.
Beyond that, the film is as boringly shot and lazily staged. It looks ugly and cheap. It stretches on for at last 20 minutes too long. Most of that unnecessary running time is devoted to a subplot involving Gerard Butler’s wife that easily could have been removed were it not for the fact that Butler was the producer and got to keep in whatever he damn well pleased.
‘Den of Thieves’ is an absolute mess and disastrous disappointment for anyone who enjoys this genre. The only saving grace is the fact that O’Shea Jackson somehow overcomes it all and delivers another delightful supporting performance. If he’s this good in this crapheap, then clearly his talent is legitimate. Everything else about the movie is instantly disposable. Fortunately, ‘Den of Thieves’ will be forgotten by absolutely everyone in a week or so, even by those who had the misfortune of seeing or making the movie.