By: Nick van Dinther
From the very first scene in Den of Thieves, it becomes fairly obvious that this is not going to be your typical shoot ‘em up popcorn flick. It’s actually a smart, well written, edge-of-your-seat thriller that defies all expectations.
The story revolves around the LA County Sheriff’s Department, led by Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler), who are searching for the culprits of a string of unsolved robberies in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, a group of criminals, led by a man known as Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), are planning one of the biggest heists in modern history by robbing the Federal Reserve. When the two groups cross paths, a high stakes cat-and-mouse game follows showing that these may not be your typical robbers, but these aren’t your typical cops either.
Butler leads this film with one of his better performances in recent memory. He portrays Flanagan without being too over-the-top, and tackles emotional moments with poise and tension. With his sarcastic wit and tough guy persona, it would be easy to play this character in a way that would seem out of place in this film, but Butler manages to find his sweet spot. Another standout in this cast is Schreiber. His character in Den of Thieves seems like a personality borrowed from the Fast & Furious franchise, but he plays him with fruitful nuances. Schreiber has done most of his notable work on TV (Weeds, Orange Is The New Black), but this performance and his turn in 2016’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi show that he has what it takes to headline movies. O’Shea Jackson Jr. is a highlight in the supporting cast. He proves that his turn playing his father Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton wasn’t a one-off part – he’s here to stay.
The star of the show, however, is filmmaker Christian Gudegast, making his directorial debut after serving as a screenwriter on previous action flicks (A Man Apart, London Has Fallen). Gudegast shines as both the director and the screenwriter, but he also knowns how to deliver a wonderfully shot film. Den of Thieves has a gritty yet cinematic vibe that instantly tells you that this is a movie to be taken seriously. The director’s choice to use limited music also creates a more realistic and visceral experience for the viewer.
Gudegast tells this story from both points-of-view, putting the viewer in the seat of each of the two teams – a very smart move. This allows us to understand each side’s motivation and actions, blurring the lines between good and bad. The film is not without flaws though. The dialogue is occasionally choppy, and Den of Thieves takes a while to find its footing. Partly because there is far too much exposition in the earlier parts of this film. It’s not that the information given isn’t important to the story, but there are far better ways to inform the viewer.
The celebrity cameos are worth addressing as well. Some of them work (MMA fighter Michael Bisping), but others fall flat (MMA fighter Max Holloway). Then again, cameos are more for fan service, so I don’t blame Christian Gudegast for taking a shot with these famous faces. What’s unforgiving is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s supporting role. Jackson doesn’t rise to the occasion like his fellow actors do, and he seems out of place. His role would have been better suited for a lesser known actor, allowing the newbie to prove their chops among a supportive cast.
Den of Thieves will interest audiences with its story and exciting action as it provides great characters and some surprising twists. It’ll also build anticipation for Christian Gudegast’s follow-up film, for which a high bar has been set.
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Nick van Dinther: @NickVanDinther