Friday 21 February 2020

Movie Review: Den Of Thieves (2018)

A gritty heist movie, Den Of Thieves enjoys good moments with uncompromising characters but offers little that is new to the genre.

In Los Angeles, ex-convict Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) leads a gang of well-organized bank robbers, most of whom are ex-Marines. A hold-up of an armored truck goes wrong, resulting in a wild shootout and attracting the attention of county sheriff  "Big Nick" O'Brien (Gerard Butler) and his tough group of detectives. Nick's personal life is falling apart, which only spurs him to take more risks on the job.

Nick pressures Donnie Wilson (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), a bartender and getaway driver, into revealing group membership details, and the gang is placed under close surveillance. But Merriman vows to never again be captured, and along with his associate Levi (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) proceeds with planning an audacious robbery of the Federal Reserve bank, a seemingly impregnable target.

Following in the footsteps of Heat (1995), The Town (2010) and Triple 9 (2016), Den Of Thieves adopts a familiar formula. Hardened criminals with high powered weaponry, smart leadership and military training pull off brazen robberies and plan successively higher risk heists, the film connecting the dots between action scenes with the usual attempts at character depth, macho posturing and investigative procedures.

While the overall quality is adequate, writer and director Christian Gudegast creates an unnecessarily flabby 140 minute movie, awash in a sickly yellow and brown aesthetic derived from suburban blandness. The action scenes carry plenty of kinetic zing, but Gudegast stumbles trying to establish a human connection. Nick's disintegrating marriage and strained family situation is contrived to maximum yawn levels, but even worse is a single disconsonant and just bizarre scene at gang member Levi's home, as his daughter prepares for her first serious date.

Elsewhere the men on both sides of the law hiss at each other with medieval levels of decorum, Den Of Thieves emphasizing the thin line between good guys and bad guys. Big Nick is happy to at least threaten to break every rule in his quest to maintain law and order, while Merriman is a mostly honourable thief, favouring clean operations with no shots fired and no one getting hurt. But his foot soldiers carry enough armament to win most small country civil wars, just in case.

Gerard Butler perfects the frumpled slob cop routine, his unbathed stink jumping off the screen. Pablo Schreiber gives Merrimen enough thoughtful polish to create a worthwhile adversary. The rest of the predominantly male cast members sweat a lot while revealing an impressive range of body art.

The final heist is complicated beyond comprehension and Gudegast throws in a too-late twist that lands awkwardly. Den Of Thieves rides the momentum of decent content, but with mediocre artistry.

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