Review: Den of Thieves

Genre: Action, Heist
Starring: Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Pablo Schreiber, Evan Jones, Cooper Andrews, Maurice Compte, Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau, Dawn Olivieri, Brian Van Holt.
Year Of Release: 2018 (UK)
Certificate: 15 (UK)
Runtime: 140 Minutes
Director: Christian Gudegast
Writer(s): Christian Gudegast & Paul Scheuring
Synopsis: “A gritty crime saga which follows the lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank.” IMDB
Christian Gudegast’s Den of Thieves has supposedly already been commissioned a sequel, despite a mixed reception and box office; one person you will not find in the queue for tickets is this writer, who found the first time round dull and incompetent enough.
Den of Thieves centres around an elite group of County Sheriff Deputies looking to prevent bank robberies in Los Angeles; with at least one bank robbed every single hour, they’re a busy bunch — but still have time for hookers and booze. Detective Nick O’Brien (Gerald Butler) and his team are chasing a team of robbers led by Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), who they soon learn is planning to rob the Federal Reserve — the bank of banks. You can bet your bottom dollar that the plot holes in this one are gapping, so let’s dive in.
Den of Thieves really tested my patience. It unnecessarily clocks in at a punishing 140 minutes, most of which are an utter slog to endure. The film you’ve come to see – a frothy, kinda dumb-fun bank robbery – doesn’t arrive until the final 45 minutes; by this time you can predict every twist beat for beat, seeing straight through the film’s forced ‘edginess’ and bravado. A tighter 90 minutes feature-length may have alleviated some of the problems; at 140 it’s simply excruciating. You are encouraged to suspend your disbelief when it comes to films as frothy and trashy as this, but Den of Thieves falls apart because of the sheer number of plot holes and implausibilities.
Gudegast’s script introduces needless side-stories which only appear to drag and delay the entire thing; it goes out of its way to turn Butler into the most unlikeable character in a pretty awful bunch, no more so indicative than by a terrible B-plot regarding the divorce of his wife because of his bad behaviour and conduct that the film never once condemns him for. Maybe that’s because the film is literally dripping with testosterone — were any women allowed anywhere near this project? They probably ran a mile when they realised quite how pitiful it is. I truly feel sorry for the only fully-clothed woman seen throughout this film — Dawn Olivieri. I’m so sorry for your involvement in this alpha-male, dick-measuring contest Dawn. Please, find yourself a better agent.
In fact, no one really emerges from this film unscathed; the only one, I’d argue, is Pablo Schreiber, the ‘baddie’ more compelling and easy-to-root-for than the ‘goodie’; that’s when you know something has gone drastically wrong. Gerald ‘The Hero’ Butler plays every character he was ever played before, yet infinitely more irritating here; hoping the main character gets a headshot before the ‘fade to credits’ is, again, a sign that something has gone wrong along the way. At least this is a (very slight) improvement over Geostorm.
After impressing in Ingrid Goes West, O’Shea Jackson Jr drops a clunky performance that fails to deliver on the torment of his character; all topped off with possibly the worst attempt at a British accent in quite some time. I mean, his unbearable accent ‘effort’ alone is why I’m avoiding the sequel. It’s the most unremarkable ensemble to make up an action-thriller cast; but who can really blame them with such dire material.
Gudegast is a somewhat more efficient director than he is a writer. The final hell-for-leather traffic shoutout sequence may not hold a light to Sicario’s superior triumph (of which it is obviously influenced by), but Gudegast competently builds intensity and tension. Although at this stage calls ‘too little, too late’ won’t go unheard, it’s a serviceable enough sequence. The action elsewhere just about holds up for a man making his directorial debut. But ‘just about’ is not good enough when Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig have scored Best Director nominations with Best Picture-nominated films on their first directorial attempt. Gudegast is, of course, playing in a different ballpark but his limited experience, unfortunately, shows in every aspect.

In Conclusion: Den of Thieves

Just how vacuous is Den of Thieves? Butler’s Nick deduces what should be an exciting plot twist by something a character said in a previous scene — one that Butler wasn’t actually in, and his character would have no knowledge of at all. It lands with such a dull, lifeless thud — and that pretty much sums up the entirety of Den of Thieves. It pampers to its audience without actually comprehending that the audience could have – and should have – seen pretty much any other film currently in cinema (except maybe Downsizing – but at least the first half an hour of that was inventive). Den of Thieves’ biggest heist is perpetrated against the audience; it steals their money, time and energy.

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