For a film six years in the making (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson said it, not me), you’d think somebody along the way would realize the final runtime is a huge red flag. For starters, Den of Thieves is not very good. Why did director Christian Gudegast think it was a good idea to take a basic premise and add unnecessary character development that drags the film through the mud? This is a movie that pays no mind to concrete structure yet tries to masquerade as a layered heist film.
Set in Los Angeles — which the film boasts as the bank robbing capital of the world — we’re introduced to former convict and lead man Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), who rounds up some of his most-trusted buds to rob banks. But Merrimen wants to think larger and rob a bank that has never had a single dollar stolen. His crew consists of former football teammate and current meathead Levi Enson (50 Cent). Actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays the driver, Donnie. Then there’s the quiet and, well, meaningless Bosco (Evan Jones). With any heist film comes the opposition, which is in the form of “Big” Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler). He leads the L.A. Major Crimes division and is accompanied by a few buddies of his own.
Gudegas’ script attempts to dive deep into the major players: Merrimen, Flanagan, Donnie and Enson. Everyone else is a generic castaway that could have been scrapped. If the film doesn’t care about them, why should I? Quite frankly, Den of Thieves is unsuccessful in making me care for the film outside surprisingly decent shootout sequences.
The film attempts to paint both factions as evil and evil-er, but it comes across as men beating their chest and having zero disregard for their actions. There are moments where I swear Gerard Butler was going to rip his shirt off and beat his chest for 10 minutes, which would’ve fallen in line with this film. Heck, there’s a scene where 50 Cent shows off his muscle buddies in an attempt to scare his daughter’s prom date. This scene is again unnecessary and adds to the already-bloated runtime.
Speaking of runtime: two hours and 20 minutes. And believe me, it FELT like it. I understand wanting to give characters their fair share of screen time (unless you’re, like, any supporting character in this film) but Butler, 50 Cent, Schreiber — all of them cannot carry a scene. Schreiber surprised me in how one-dimensional he adapted to the script after showing he has the chops on Orange is the New Black. But maybe I’ll just blame this one on the writing.
The only capable actor whom I wish to see in other roles following this film is Jackson Jr. (see: Straight Outta Compton). He got the closest to raw emotion and believability than anyone on this bill.
Suspension of belief also precedes Den of Thieves, but when I hear that a bank has $500-600 billion in the heart of L.A., you’ve lost me and other viewers with common sense. When the film sets up its crescendo, a shootout erupts on a narrow two-lane road full of innocent bystanders and families in cars. No matter, as Merrimen brandishes an M249 light machine gun (“SAW”). REALLY? For a crew that Butler’s character describes as one that “only shoots uniforms,” they just seemingly forget their morals multiple times outside of this instance. It’s bonkers, and not the enjoyable kind of crazy.
During the second act, there’s a notable point where the action relaxes and the film tries its best to breathe (you know, outside of the alcohol, strippers and vulgarity). Butler takes a moment to peer out into the ocean after his character dealt with a domestic issue. The camera catches “Big Nick” on the shore as the sun begins to set. Peter G. Adams‘ forgettable composition queues a solemn chorus of instruments. The camera goes wide and we continue to see Nick staring into the empty sea. It was at that moment I believe Butler took time to think about where his career went off the wayside.
And Den of Thieves does nothing to boost his career nor any of those involved.
Better luck next January, crew.
I was treated to an advanced screening thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing and STX Films.
Den of Thieves is clearly rated-R, runs a sluggish 2 hours and 20 minutes and is in theaters Jan. 19, 2018.