As a lover of crime films, I am excited to view any seemingly promising movie belonging to the genre that is released. Oftentimes, I am impressed by these movies and continue to hail them as some of my favorites. What happens when I watch one that doesn’t impress me?
Den of Thieves, directed by Christian Gudegast, is the latest heist movie to be released in theaters. The film stars several prolific celebrities—such as Gerard Butler and 50 Cent—and even includes newer voices in entertainment like O’Shea Jackson.
To start off, I had virtually no expectations for this movie. When I read the synopsis for Den of Thieves and watched its trailer, I knew it was going to be very derivative of Heat, a magnificent 1995 crime epic, starring acting legends Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. The film is quite similar to that movie, and it is somewhat jarring while watching. Both movies include a cat-and-mouse heist story as well as an epic shootout sequence, so I believe the comparison is warranted.
The setup of Den of Thieves is that a crew of LA bank robbers is planning a major heist on the Federal Reserve while intersecting with the life of a corrupt LAPD cop (Gerard Butler). The narrative cuts between both perspectives as Butler’s character aims to apprehend the crew before they make their strike.
Butler’s character seems to serve the archetype of a character like Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) in the movie Training Day—a corrupt, over-the-top police officer that is likely more dangerous than the criminals he apprehends. While his performance is entertaining, his character is unlikable and does several despicable things in the movie regarding his personal life. He is not nearly as memorable as Alonzo Harris and comes off as a carbon copy of him in many ways.
The crew in this movie simply lacks depth. There are attempts made to establish each of the members’ relationships and personal lives, but it feels very mundane in the end. 50 Cent’s character, for example, only receives a single scene depicting anything involving his family or life. He does not do much in this movie outside of that, so the role was wasted. Scenes like that did not serve the movie much and only took away from the film.
I also had a major problem with this movie’s tone. While the story was supposed to be serious and emotional at parts, it is not powerful at all. This is because similar to recent blockbusters, the dialogue relies too much on attempts at comedy. Almost every other line seems to be a joke, even in scenes where it is completely inappropriate. The movie also tries to be dramatic and include personal drama, but it does not hit home. This may be due to it being such a short film for the story it is trying to tell. Several subplots are brought up in the narrative, but so many of them are left incomplete, which begs the question of why they were even present in the first place.
Regarding the acting, the performances given were serviceable. Nobody is winning an Oscar for their role, but each actor did their part adequately. O’Shea Jackson gave a solid, good performance and I actually cared about his character. Butler’s performance, on the other hand, while entertaining, was a very unlikeable character and felt too stereotypical for me to truly love.
On a technical level, the movie has decent quality. During shootout scenes, the sound editing is superb and the shots are well composed. Shots overlooking LA are also very good. Outside of those scenes, the cinematography honestly lacks direction and spares the movie from any tone—the biggest problem with the movie overall. There is even a robbery scene in the movie that felt as though it were extracted from a comedy because of it being an amalgamation of everything wrong with this movie: comedic dialogue at inappropriate moments and a lack of direction. I felt very little tension throughout this film, and even the final heist did not feel satisfying at all since it was not built up nearly as much as it should have (again, too much of the inadequate runtime was spent on incomplete, lackluster subplots). The climax also felt too derivative of other crime movies and was completely predictable for me, even though I still found it entertaining.
My criticism aside, Den of Thieves is an enjoyable, easy watch. While the film is a forgettable experience and lacks the technical marvel, writing, and acting quality to elevate it to the likes of Heat and other great cat-and-mouse crime thrillers, one can have fun while watching this movie. In theaters, it’s also entertaining to listen to audience members laugh at certain lines in the film. Otherwise, I would advise lovers of films—crime or otherwise—to watch the movies Heat, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Departed, as I believe those movies are much superior to Den of Thieves.
Den of Thieves shot its way into theaters on January 19, 2018.