At first glance, Den of Thieves can be called a ripoff of Michael Mann’s 1995 classic, Heat, one of the all-time great crime thrillers in cinema. That would be a true statement. But to dismiss Den of Thieves as a knockoff of Heat, would do a disservice to Den of Thieves. This is not a perfect film, it has all of the cliches cop films have but Den of Thieves is ambitious in its own way with a final heist that is quite involving. It would be easy to write off Den of Thieves because Gerard Butler is the star of this film and he has shown an uncanny knack for picking horrendous films to star in. All you have to do is look at his resume on Rotten Tomatoes to see that.
Den of Thieves stars Butler as a Nick Flanagan, the head of an elite crime unit on the trail a gang of very dangerous bank robbers on the mean streets of Los Angeles. The gang, led by Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) and Levi Enson (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) they carve out a swath of banks all over LA leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. Still no surprises, here. Nick is of course on the downside of his marriage. He drinks too much, eats too much (Butler is alleged to have gained twenty-five pounds for this role and he is also listed as a producer) and pretty much flies by the seat of his pants. But the cat and mouse thriller that is Den of Thieves is what I enjoyed.
This is a film powered by a strong performance by Butler who turns in some of his best acting since his performance in “300”. His Nick Flanagan character is not a likable chap and you can see why his wife wants out. He is abrasive, obnoxious and crude. But Butler is wise to keep a sliver of Nick’s humanity so that I still was rooting for him. There is a sweet scene where Nick visits his daughter and goes back to his truck and sobs. He knows he is a bit of a lout and it affects him. It is a quiet moment and effective.
Since these thrillers are only as good as the bad guy is evil, Den of Thieves has a formidable villain in the form of Merrimen. Pablo Schreiber is simply chilling as Merrimen. There is scene after scene in which Merrimen laws down the law. Schreiber is able to convey a strong and diabolical character and a terrific bad guy that really enhances this film. This is not a guy you want to tangle with. Schreiber’s performance is frighteningly effective. The supporting cast is also solid with Evan Jones as one of Merrimen’s crew and O’Shea Jackson as Donnie, Merrimen’s driver.
Den of Thieves is the first film for director Christopher Gudegast and it is an impressive debut. He has not re-invented the wheel with this film, but he has crafted a clever and effective thriller, even though there is not much that is original happening on screen. He worked with Butler on London Has Fallen (not one of their finer efforts) but where that action was flat and dull, the action in Den of Thieves is loud and realistic and there is a final twist that I did not see coming. The cinematography by Terry Stacey is both gorgeous and gritty at the same time and once again, Cliff Martinez provides another stand-out score.
Den of Thieves is not original, granted but it knows what it wants to do and sets about doing it well. It has all of the elements going for it with a strong performance by Butler and a terrific villain with Pablo Schreiber as Merrimen and a solid supporting cast. For it being the month of January where the studios dump all of their crap into theaters, it is a pleasure to see an entertaining and effective thriller like Den of Thieves. No one is suggesting this is anywhere close to the classic film Heat, but Den of Thieves managed to deliver what I was looking for. Sometimes that is all you need.
Den of Thieves – **** out of 5
Den of Thieves – Rated R for language, nudity, gore and graphic violence
Den of Thieves – Runtime is 140 minutes
Den of Thieves is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.