A Michael Mann knock off that shows promise it can’t quite deliver.
The opening credits tell us Los Angeles is the “bank robbery capital of the world” and quickly throws us into the local criminal underworld where a small group of armed ex-marines led by Merriman (Pablo Schreiber) are setting the stage for another carefully planned heist. Bosco (Evan Jones), Levi (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) make up the rest of the crew who are largely regarded as the best in the business. They are in the sights of corrupt LAPD Lieutenant “Big Nick” Flanagan (Gerard Butler) and his loyal rule-breaking unit from the Sheriff’s Department. The two sides are destined to meet head on once Merriman’s grand plan starts to wind itself slowly into action and Flanagan prepares his team for battle.
The details on how both crews get to the expected showdown is neither here nor there, although the two hour wait to reach that point is inexcusably long. Unless bolstered by an exceptional cast or a watertight script heist movies are best kept short, sweet and to-the-point. First time director Christian Gudegast skipped a few rungs on the ladder to land this gig with previous writing credits attached to A Man Apart and London Has Fallen. The film is unnecessarily bloated and while his attempts to add dimension to Nick and Merriman’s personal lives are hollow, he at least expresses an interest in trying to generate something beyond boneheads and bullets.
The confusing thing about the film is where the time goes and what exactly happens to fill the two hours and twenty minutes. Den of Thieves starts in explosive enough fashion but there are long gaps in between the set-pieces that are merely perfunctory and add little to the momentum of the story. Gudegast has a firm enough grip on the action sequences and when the money spinning $30million heist is clicking through the gears the director makes a good case for keeping our attention. The heist itself doesn’t exactly break new ground but it is efficiently shot and executed well enough not to confuse itself or the audience. Elsewhere, O’Shea Jackson Jr. again shows he has the ability to make something out of this acting lark and Pablo Schreiber continues to build good stock in the menacing villain trade.
Expectation levels may be low heading into a film featuring 50 Cent and Gerard Butler, and while the film won’t last long in the memory it passes the time with a workmanlike performance. Butler in particular seems to be enjoying his role and it’s nice to be reminded there is still some life in the big man after falling off a cliff post-300. A better script and the loosening of a few more screws would’ve served his character well. He has a natural presence and charisma that fits into films that rely on his physicality rather than his acting chops, so he avoids spending over two hours chewing on the scenery (although he does spend much of that time with some kind of food, drink or cigarette in the vicinity of his mouth).
Fans of Heat won’t fail to notice the narrative parallels between the two films with corruption rife on both sides, a menacing synth score and a similar set-up used for the climax, but lovers of the classic Michael Mann neo-noir won’t find too many other favourable comparisons leaping out from the screen. The ending is a curveball that appears to come from another film entirely and tries to be a little too clever while setting up the possibility of a sequel. If the opening weekend at the US box office is anything to go by a second film is a distinct possibility. Provided the run time is significantly shortened, the action tightened and Gerard Butler remains motivated, there are a lot worse things that can be put into production.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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