Den of Thieves Leaves a Manly Stink

Movie Review: Den of Thieves

Testosterone fuels this bank heist vehicle as Gerard Butler plays a tough, self-loathing cop who sacrificed his inner goodness to catch the bad guys

Den of Thieves


Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Evan Jones

Directed by: Christian Gudegast

Running time: 2 hrs 20 mins

Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

One summer, I lived in a frat house. It was university. You do these things. Also, this was a particularly nice house, with truly nice frat guys doing a summer term in accounting. They needed another roommate, and I needed a room. Being sweethearts, and aware of a probable need for space, they gave me the entire basement — “the best room in the house… it has the queen size waterbed, and its own bathroom.” It was also where everyone stored their hockey gear.

I share this because I haven’t thought of that house, or that summer, or the uniquely masculine aroma of CCM musk until I watched Den of Thieves.

To say it’s a guy movie is an understatement. It’s a guy movie on steroids, protein powders and bulk builders. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a crotch scratch and sausage selfie… served with rounds of automatic gunfire and pole dancing.

Hey. Nothing wrong with that. Some people need a little injection of testosterone and motor oil to get their engine purring, and Gerard Butler (300, London Has Fallen) and Pablo Schreiber (The Wire, Weeds, Lords of Dogtown) are more than willing to prove they can pop your hood and blow your carburetor out.

Let’s face it. They know where to find the dipstick on any model, and once again, these two hulking actors reach down deep, and pull out a long, greasy narrative that gets darker with each turn.

Written and directed by first-time director Christian Gudegast, the whole supposed “twist” in Den of Thieves is the moral gradient. The bad guys — lead here by Schreiber’s character Merrimen — are clean-cut, disciplined and polite family men. Meanwhile, the good guys — lead by Butler’s Big Nick — are unshaven, boozing, strip-club regulars.

The bad guys are called, originally, “The Outlaws.” The good guys — the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department major crimes task force — is called “The Regulators.” The Outlaws are set on robbing the Federal Reserve Bank. The Regulators will need to stop them.

It’s a standard set-up and Gudegast doesn’t change anything. He simply mixes Dirty Harry characters with Miami Vice scene work to create a particularly violent heist movie. On paper, this should work as well as a Baby Driver, especially given the only relatable character is the getaway driver played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.

To say it’s a guy movie is an understatement. It’s a guy movie on steroids, protein powders and bulk builders. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a crotch scratch and sausage selfie… served with rounds of automatic gunfire and pole dancing.

Yet, it doesn’t. With all the greasy biceps in the mix, Gudegast loses his grasp of the pacing — and eventually, the whole plot. He tries to develop a Tommy Lee Jones-Harrison Ford tension between the two men at the same time as setting up a complicated heist. As a result, we get scenes with Big Nick’s wife that feel out of place and pushed, plus a whole extra helping of forced encounters that do little but diffuse suspense. The running time on the movie is almost two and a half hours — and really, that’s about 30 minutes too many.

The truth is, you don’t really want to spend too much time with these folks. Not because they’re crass or criminals, or kill people on a regular basis. It’s because they are not interesting, perhaps the biggest sin of all — at least in movies.

The dialogue is so generically vulgar, it leaves an aftertaste of crumbled concrete. The fact that Butler can spit it out in his imitation of an angry Mel Gibson is a credit to his skills, as well as his courage to take on such an unattractive lead. He’s clearly trying hard, and his effort lends Den of Thieves an accidental pathos.

Because the plot is so thick, it can’t really go anywhere. It simply lingers on the surface, a slick of dark crude atop a frothing sea of male isolation. Gudegast captures the bleakness in his frames, in the mood, in his desire to show us the underbelly of Greater Los Angeles (even though they were forced to shoot in Atlanta).

He lets us feel the desperation behind the fact it offers in the opening frames: the City of Angels has the highest rate of bank robberies in the world. Unfortunately, he never examines the suffering at any meaningful level because these characters are so far removed from our world they as well be at war in some foreign desert. As a result, Gudegast never hits home — he just leaves a mess of manliness and a duffle bag of rancid gear.


THE EX-PRESS, January 19, 2018



Review: Den of Thieves

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It's good guys versus bad guys -- or is it? Writer-director Christian Gudegast combines the darkness of Dirty Harry with the stylish violence of Miami Vice to give us a heist movie with plenty of muscle. Gerard Butler heads the L.A. sheriff's office Major Crimes division as Big Nick, a cop who plays hard. Pablo Schrieber is his nemesis: Merriman, a former special ops veteran now working as a mercenary for big money. When Schreiber and his Outlaws decide to rob the Federal Reserve, only Big Nick and his boys can stop them. A standard set up finds accidental pathos through Butler's broken brawn. If director Gudegast had been able to exploit it, Den of Thieves could have been Baby Driver meets Bad Lieutenant. As it is, it's more like two hours of being held captive inside a hockey bag filled with jock sweat. -- Katherine Monk

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