By Anthony Nolfi
“Den of Thieves” is a ho-hum heist that no burglar would risk his neck to check out.
Directed, co-written and produced by Christian Gudegast, “Den of Thieves” is an action thriller that revolves around loose cannon detective Nick, played by Gerard Butler, and his team of off-the-book police officers on the hunt for skilled robbers led by Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schrieber).
The bulk of the film involves run-ins with Merrimen and his own gaggle of thieves.
One thief, Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), is stuck between the two sides.
Nick exploits this, making Donnie the cops’ “inside guy.”Add an uncomfortably realistic side plot of Nick’s wife believing that he’s cheating on her, and you’ve got the makings of a film rife with conflict.
Not all of it is for the best.
The lack of motivation and characterization drags this entire movie down. Aside from an unusually childish performance out of Butler, who is difficult to relate or empathize with given his crude actions and mentality, all of the actors portraying the police are one dimensional and act as background noise during shootouts.
The same could be said for Merrimen and his crew with just a hint of a dynamic early on.
There isn’t any sense of motivation behind the actions of the robbers outside of their greed and their ambition to be the only ones to successfully rob the bank.
The actors don’t go out of their way to make any characters especially memorable, with Jackson being the only exception.
Donnie is stuck between jail and a bullet in his brain should he fail either side. The suspense of how he’ll get out of his debacle is paramount to his conflict, which is the most interesting.
While the characters are unappealing, there is some fun to be had with the movie’s action.
The opening scene actually works well.
The coordinated nature of the robbers, their intimidating gas mask ensemble and the calculated measures taken to be untraceable showcases just how skilled, intelligent and lethal these crooks are.
A lot of that tension is lost in the next scene. Though it is reignited anytime Donnie returns and when the robbers infiltrate the Federal Reserve.
It’s genuinely nail-biting. At any second the jig could be up for them.
And, when all is said and done, there is a bit of a twist to the ending that almost makes sitting through the film worth it.
It’s hard to think back on those scenes positively, however, because of how juvenile and ridiculous Butler’s character comes off.
He’s featured throughout, but just acts like a cocky, no-holds-bar, crooked man the whole time, making fans of some of his more heroic portrayals like King Leonidas in “300” shake their heads in disappointment. The film cuts back to his situation with his wife multiple times throughout and it never gets any easier to sit through.
Nick’s paternal interactions sum up “Den of Thieves” well: empty and hollow, devoid of interesting characters, dynamic motivation, or any special excitement to be had.
The opening showed promise—Donnie’s character actually feels like a human being, and there are a few chuckles to be had.
It’s hysterical actually, but because one of the few good scenes is just one joke that’s unrelated to the rest of the story, Gudegast really should ask himself if he’s writing a heist movie correctly.
The Crow’s Nest rates movies between one and five stars, with five stars being the highest possible score.
Header photo courtesy of STX Entertainment