The Federal Reserve takes in old dollar bills and replaces them with fresh, crisp new bills to be circulated. As for the old currency, it’s destroyed. Millions of dollars a day are shredded into dust. That’s were Den of Thieves makes itself different from other crime films. This isn’t a smash and grab at a small bank branch. It’s infiltration of a fortress protected by armed guard and high tech security. Not to mention a task force hot on your trail that has the means to stop you.
Directed by Christian Gudegast and starring Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis Jackson (AKA 50 Cent), and O’Shea Jackson Jr. The film has been in development hell for almost 14 years…And it shows. The heist subgenre of crime films hasn’t changed too much. Familiar beats are hit that I believe someone had a checklist of all the tropes of the genre and made sure they made it into the movie. The hard ass cop with issues in his personal life, the weakest link of the bad guys getting grilled and pinned as a snitch and the cat and mouse nature of the bank robbers versus the good guys are can all be found.
Character development is buried for the setup of the heist job and the tension between Big Nick Flanagan (Butler) and Merrimen (Schreiber). While Flanagan leads the Major Crimes unit for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Merrimen takes point for the outlaws. While Flanagan is shown as a hard ass and brash leader of “The Regulators” (the nickname of the Major Crimes Unit), but his home life falls apart. Butler does great in this role, but the humanizing of the character didn’t hit with me.
We also focus on O’Shea Jackson’s Donnie, as he seemingly moves up the ranks within the gang from being the driver who is left in the dark on details of smaller jobs is pushed into the action with the Federal Reserve Job. Outside of those three characters, that’s all that is given to us. There are consequences at the end of the film that should have had more feeling. You spend no time with other gang members or other officers. There is an FBI agent that butts heads with Flanagan and the tactics used to catch the robbers. But that is all we get. Butler is good on his own, but it would have been nice to have a balance and see other “Regulators” in down time.
Action doesn’t engulf the film from beginning to end. But in the climax, the heist itself and the final conflict does well enough. A good crime movie doesn’t need to be a shoot em’ up. Oddly enough, there are many laughs throughout. Not slapstick or buddy cop gags. There is one scene that involves one of the crew members, his daughter’s prom date and a room full of muscle bound Samoans. Almost identical to the intimidation scene found in Bad Boys 2. The ending is pretty damn good. A twist that is hinted at vaguely through the film. There is even a pretty cool cameo at the end if you are a fan of mixed martial arts and the UFC.
While Den of Thieves works well enough for at hitting the checkmarks of the genre, the good outweighs the bad. The main cast works and the heist and action scenes and even the laughs work. But It feels like a film we have seen before. It’s hard to not compare any heist film to Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece Heat. You won’t be bored, but you could find any heist film on demand and get the same satisfaction.