Tries to pack a lot of Heat but never quite hits the pinnacle…
When it comes to cop thrillers and films surrounding eloquent heists, it’s fair to say that in many cases we’ve seen it all before. There are the films that helped to define this corner of the industry and those that have used those examples to almost recreate their own versions – Den Of Thieves would certainly come under the latter bracket.
As we’re introduced to Los Angeles as the heist capital of the world in its opening stages, Den Of Thieves look to strike immediately with a hot iron in presenting a heist that packs bullets, cops, criminals… and donuts. It’s a strong start to proceedings, laying out the foundations of our core criminals at the heart of the story and leading into the introduction of Gerard Butler’s edgy, balls-to-the-wall and frankly blasé LA cop, ‘Big Nick’ O’Brien as he surveys the crime scene, feasting on left behind donuts and smoking a cigarette without an inch of care for police procedure. It’s a simple and effective setup showing that in this story both sides of the law are as shady as one another.
As Nick as his team look to uncover that the criminal group themselves is led by notorious criminal Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) and also includes his right hand man Enson Levoux (Curtis Jackson) and relative newbie driver, Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), a whole new ambitious heist job comes into play. With the criminal unit looking plan everything down to the inch and Nick aiming to shut them down for good, the stakes are high and each man will do anything they can to come out on top.
Den Of Thieves is one of those films where, through its rather lengthy two-hours-plus duration, you will find yourself almost with a sense of ticking boxes as you go along. It’s very much an archetypical heist/cop thriller, complete with your familiar shady cops, pumped-up, muscular criminals, gunplay and a fast car thrown in to boot. That’s not to say it’s a bad film; in fact, at times Den Of Thieves does feel like it is a legitimate heist movie that contains not only plenty of brawn but some essence of brainpower too – which, these days, is not always present in these types of films.
Key to the successful side of the movie lies in two of the main men pitted against one another – Gerard Butler on the cop side and Pablo Schreiber leading his men to a seemingly ‘impossible’ job that could see them reap the rewards of millions of unmarked bank notes. Butler’s Nick is care-free and will do anything to get to his opposition number, while Schreiber’s Merrimen is cold and calculated in his own play of this game of chess. It certainly makes for captivating – and sometimes unnerving – viewing with one particular scene in a gun range sending a particularly strong message. Sadly, it rarely extends upon their characters, with everyone else around them feeling less than important, even the likes of 50 Cent and O’Shea Jackson Jr, who are essentially still rather key players.
For a film very much looking to usurp the shadow of the classic Heat, Den Of Thieves rarely hits those heights. Admittedly, it packs some rather well shot and impressive shootout sequences, and the heist plan itself is elaborate enough but the execution here is rather short of being memorable in say a decade’s time. Instead, we get a familiar yet entertaining heist that has thrills and hard hits but not that killer blow.
Den Of Thieves is out in UK cinemas on 2nd February.