Den of Thieves is a heist movie that pits the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department against an impressive group of highly skilled bank robbers as they plan to rob the Federal Reserve Bank. The film is centered around L.A.’s sheriff, Nick, played by Gerard Butler, as he struggles to keep up with the demands of his job, stay ahead of the bad guys, and deal with his family troubles. In some respects, you’ve probably seen Den of Thieves in concept at least half a dozen times if you’re a fan of the genre. Does that mean that you should take a seat or take a pass on this one?
As an audience we learn quickly that Nick is a wild antagonist who is flawed across the board. He has a seemingly pointless feud with an FBI agent who he can’t resist needling and his home life is a mess. He’ll do whatever is necessary to get the job done, even if that means beating the snot out of a potential informant when he meets the robbers driver Donnie, who was a brilliant casting choice in the form of O’Shea Jackson Jr.
The Sheriff and his team call themselves the Regulators. They’re not quite crooked cops, but they’re not nice guys eithers. They operate in a gray enough area that there are times throughout the film where you have a hard time sympathizing with them. On the other side of things we have the Outlaws, bandits who put together and pull off elaborate and incredibly difficult crimes.
Den of Thieves delivers more backstory on both Nick and one of the Outlaws than seems necessary. In both cases, it leads to comedic pay off, but even with that the switch in tone feels largely out of place. I applaud the effort to add dimension to the characters, a different take on movie’s with this theme, but ultimately it felt like filler. In one such instance it felt like it was just an excuse to remind us that 50 Cent was in the movie.
There’s a lot of calm before the storm interplay between the hunter and hunted, Nick and the lead Outlaw, Merrimen. There is one scene in which the two characters come face to face in an unlikely place and it’s tense, and you’re wondering who’s going to make the first move! But by scenes end, several people in my screening (myself included) verbally expressed complete confusion at what they had just witnessed. That specific thread is left to dangle in the wind forever, because there’s a seed of mystery and intrigue that never comes up again.
Critiques aside, overall Den of Thieves is a great action movie and the plot has constant momentum. The strongest part of Den of Thieves as a story lays within its dialogue. The characters are raw and brash, with sarcasm being the primary form of communication on both sides of the law. It makes for some great one liners and far more laughs than you’d expect out of an action film. There are shootouts, elaborate schemes, and the most realistic L.A. car chase scene ever filmed. Despite the general predictability of the film, it’s still fun, and the ending will pleasantly catch you by surprise.