Cast: Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson Jr., 50 Cent, Pablo Schreiber
Director: Christian Gudegast
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Every day, $120mm in cash is taken out of circulation and destroyed by the Los Angeles Branch of the Federal Reserve – unless a notorious, elite crew of bank robbers can pull off the ultimate heist and get to the money first… right under the noses of LA’s most feared division in law enforcement.
Before Den of Thieves came out, everything I knew about this movie made me believe it was going to end up as a personal guilty pleasure. 50 Cent in an action movie, check. A plot that seems way too over the top to be true, check. An intense trailer with Kendrick Lamar music, check. I knew I was going to enjoy this movie, but that does not mean it is objectively good. While it had elements that appealed to me individually and great moments of suspense and action, the character development and storyline undermine these great moments.
The real foundation of this movie is through its shootouts and the sense of urgency during the team’s crimes. In particular, the final shootout during the climax is one of the most well-done shootouts I have seen in a heist movie in a very long time. Every action taken during the shootout feels important as all of their lives are on the line. Seeing this movie continue the recent trend of action movies having clip limits in their guns instead of having guns with unlimited ammo was also a pleasant surprise. Regarding the suspense, the way the final robbery goes down is incredibly intense. There are so many opportunities for them to get caught in the heat of the moment, and every time you think, “this is it, this is where their plan gets foiled,” they find a way out. I like thrillers where there is an actual sense of urgency involved, and this movie really highlights the importance of pacing.
While some of tension is built up very well, unfortunately it not always done in the best way possible. Some of the tension building in the final robbery leads to nothing and just kind of ends. A couple of moments are set up to build up a few minutes of tension, but these moments do not last more than a few seconds. There is a difference between tension for the sake of story building and tension for the sake of tension, and this is where the movie falls into the later category. Outside of the pacing, this film also has problems with its character development. Throughout this film, I was not entirely sure who I was supposed to be siding with. Naturally, I would assume we are supposed to root for the police (Butler), but he cheats on his wife and captures random civilians to torture until he gets the answers he is looking for, so I am not siding with him. The other choice is to root for the robbers (Jackson Jr., Cent, Schreiber), but Jackson Jr.’s characters relies on snitching to the police to get ahead and the other two have no issue doing terrible things in order to accomplish their goal. They show moments where all of these people have families outside of their gangs, but that does not justify any of their actions. A corrupt cop with a daughter and a bank robber with a daughter cancel each other out and do not give me a clear picture of who the real good guys are. To provide an outside perspective, this is why I believe films like The French Connection do not hold up very well, because the “cop who plays by his own rules,” schtick does not really work anymore and turns me off to the idea of rooting for him. This film continues that trend and shows us why it does not work. One last thing to note is that at the end of the movie, one of the characters delivers one of the most laughably bad British accents I have ever heard, and it really takes you out of the movie.
Overall, Den of Thieves is clearly not a genre-defining movie, but I will give it a few points because it appealed to me personally. It does the things it is supposed to do very well, but outside of that, fails to do anything out of the ordinary. If you like average action movies with some B-list actors, this will fit your needs, but it will not do anything else.
Overall Score: 5/10