07th Jun2018

‘Den of Thieves’ Blu-ray Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Dawn Olivieri, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Evan Jones, Cooper Andrews, Lewis Tan, Maurice Compte, Mo McRae | Written by Christian Gudegast, Paul Scheuring | Directed by Christian Gudegast

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Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber star in this off-the-boil Heat knock-off from writer-director Christian Gudegast, the screenwriter of London Has Fallen, here making his directing debut. However, while there are a handful of strong moments in the film, it ultimately falls short of its ambitions, thanks to some shoddy story-telling choices.

Set in present-day Los Angeles (the bank robbery capital of the world, it says here), the film centres on two grizzled hombres on either side of the law: swaggering cop “Big Nick” Flanagan (Gerard Butler) and criminal mastermind Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), whose opening gambit is to steal an empty armoured car in broad daylight. When Nick leans on bartender-slash-getaway-driver Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) for information, he learns that Merrimen has a big heist planned, and determines to catch him in the act.

Den of Thieves wants to be Heat so badly, you can practically smell the desperation. However, in place of the finely calibrated game of cat-and-mouse between Pacino and De Niro in Michael Mann’s heist classic, what we get here is a series of increasingly ridiculous incidents of alpha male posturing, the best of which involves a wordless encounter at a shooting gallery, while the worst is a nonsensical scene in which Big Nick sleeps with Merrimen’s lover – a plot development that seems important but goes precisely nowhere.

That inability to follow through with promising ideas becomes a constant throughout the film. For example, much is made of Nick’s disintegrating marriage – also borrowed from Heat – to Debbie (Dawn Olivieri), but that entire plotline disappears halfway through the film, with no noticeable impact on Nick’s general demeanour. Similarly, there are a number of illogical moments – such as Nick revealing his connection to Donnie in front of Merrimen and his gang at a restaurant – that might make for entertaining individual scenes, but are never properly followed through.

Fortunately, some of Gudegast’s Mann-erisms work just fine, whether it’s the effective synth score, his general evocation of Los Angeles or the muscular and very noisy shoot-outs, even if it’s occasionally unclear exactly who’s shooting at who.

Considering the script is co-written by Prison Break‘s Paul Scheuring, you could be forgiven for expecting some devilishly clever business when it comes to the actual heist. Instead, the film opts to keep the audience in the dark with regard to the master-plan, which makes the lengthy sequence frustratingly difficult to follow. There is a reason for that (involving another film it would be churlish to spoil here), but the film completely bungles the time-honoured explanatory montage at the end, leaving you with the sneaking suspicion that it isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

As for the performances, Butler is simultaneously both the worst thing in the film and the best thing in the film. On the one hand, it’s a preposterously over-the-top turn with no concessions toward likeability, even by Butler’s own low standards – it also dominates proceedings so completely that none of the other cop characters get a chance to register. And on the other, his relentless macho idiot act does at least give the film an unpredictable edge, enlivening scenes that would otherwise feel flat.

Elsewhere, Schreiber is fine as Merrimen, but he’s a little underwritten by comparison. Jackson Jr, however, is terrific as Donnie and pretty much walks away with the film, while Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson has some nice moments as Merrimen’s second-in-command (notably using the gang to frighten his teenage daughter’s prom date), but is also relatively under-used, to the point where you’ll struggle to remember him in any other scenes,

Overall, Den of Thieves is something of a mixed bag – it’s intermittently entertaining and the action sequences are generally decent, but it’s also frequently nonsensical and fails to deliver a satisfying final act. Furthermore, it’s a good thirty minutes too long and could have done with a bit of a trim in the middle section.

Special features on the Den of Thieves Blu-ray include: “Alpha Males” Featurette; “Into The Den” Featurette; “Alameda Corridor” Featurette and Director’s Commentary. The film is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital from Sony.

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