Los Angeles is the capital of bank robberies. On this day, it isn’t a bank but an armored car that is the target. A team of robbers led by Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) hits the truck with a precise strike meant to get the group in and out in a short period of time. Unfortunately one of the security guards goes for his gun leading to a shootout that kills all the guards, several cops and one of the robbers; however, the crew gets away with the truck that had no money on board. Investigating the crime is LA Sheriff’s department detective Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler) and his team from the major crimes squad. His work leads to Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr) as possibly having a connection to the robbers so Nick knocks him out and brings him to a house filled with his squad and some very attractive and scantily-clad women. Sending the women out, Nick questions Donnie, letting him know if they don’t like the answers he will be killed and dumped in the middle of nowhere. Donnie says Merrimen doesn’t tell him much and only uses him as a getaway driver. Nick tells Donnie to keep in touch and tell him what Merrimen is planning next. The cop and the bank robber begin a cat-and-mouse game with millions of dollars at stake and possibly their lives.
“Den of Thieves” is a gritty crime thriller that takes itself very seriously. It is packed with a cast of Alpha Males that strut, grunt and menace their way through a 140 minute movie, jumping from gunfights, robberies and domestic drama with little to no thought about how it will affect the flow of the story. It also has a complicated heist that acts as an anchor to keep everyone involved in roughly the same place even though the cops know the robbers are up to something and robbers know the cops know they’re up to something and it all becomes an intricate ballet that runs on booze and cigarettes. It is also maddeningly stupid.
I love a good crime drama. They work best when they are kept down to earth and focus on the broken characters on both sides of the law with the crime itself being something of an afterthought. “Den of Thieves” tries real hard to break the characters in a way that justifies their actions but only adds to the silliness of the whole film. The most interesting part of the film is the planning and carrying out of the robbery of the Los Angeles Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. It is a massively guarded facility with seemingly impenetrable security and with safeguards in place to keep you from spending any money you might actually get away with. It is a plan that, naturally, requires careful preparation and split-second timing. It is also incredibly dumb and unmanageable in about 100 different ways. Still, it is the best part of the film.
The worst part is Gerard Butler. I felt sorry for him and his portrayal of Nick Flanagan as a hard-drinking, hard-living detective that is so buried in his work he rarely sees his wife and two kids. His acting in this is best described as frantic. He’s constantly angry, agitated and aggravated and all apparently at the same time. He has a couple of scenes where he acts like a human being with emotions and stuff but those are few and far between. Most of the time he’s either sucking on a cigarette and chugging down a beer or beating up a suspect to get him to talk. It’s the kind of performance that is supposed to make the audience feel the character is running on a razor’s edge and could crack at any moment. It actually makes us laugh at the idea anyone would put this lunatic in charge of a law enforcement team. Butler’s performance is so exaggerated and over the top you’ll be rooting for the bank robbers.
Pablo Schreiber is actually very good as Merrimen, the leader of the bank robbers. Perhaps his more controlled performance looks great when compared to Butler’s whirling dervish but I found Schreiber to be a fascinating bad guy and a character that had some real potential. I also enjoyed the performance of O’Shea Jackson as Donnie. He’s caught between two worlds and knows either side will kill him if he slips up. He’s over his head and looks like he’s hoping to just survive long enough to escape his situation. Jackson plays the underdog role for all its worth and you can’t help but hope his character somehow survives and makes a better life for himself.
The story takes a huge twist at the very end with an explanation about how everyone involved has been played for a fool. I appreciated the effort to turn a film that is something of a mess into a surprising mindbender. Sadly, even the twist is something that isn’t handled that well and still requires such a suspension of disbelief that everything has to play out even more perfectly than you initially thought. While it does offer something of a better ending it still doesn’t make up for all the shenanigans that have gone on before.
“Den of Thieves” is rated R for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. There are some bloody shootings and beatings. There is a scene in a stripper bar and we briefly see some topless women along with bare backsides. Foul language is common throughout.
While it isn’t quite bad enough to be a guilty pleasure, there are a few things in “Den of Thieves” that are enjoyable. While implausible, the heist is pretty fun especially as it is being pulled off. The performances of Pablo Schreiber and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. are highlights. And if you want to see a clinic on what not to do during a leading acting role then watch Gerard Butler. Otherwise this film is utterly forgettable.
“Den of Thieves” gets two stars out of five.
This week the only new movie in wide release is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.
I will be on a trip this week so there will be no review.
Listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get your podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.