Den of Thieves
Directed by Christian Gudegast
Written by Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring
Starring Gerard Butler, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Evan Jones, Dawn Olivieri, Mo McRae, Max Holloway
Bank heists have served as the foundation of some of the most ingenious films. Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break” immediately comes to mind as does Michael Mann’s “Heat.” Each of these films uses a bank heist as its central thesis to build the main characters; both films have rogues on either side of the law who are hell-bent on achieving their end goals, with no regard for others. Since the trope seems to be on the verge of “rinse, wash, repeat,” someone must’ve thought it was a good time to try and update the formula with a few new tricks. Here enters first-time director Christian Gudegast’s “Den of Thieves” featuring Gerard Butler.
Mr. Butler plays Nick O’Brien, the leader of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Major Crimes unit who, with his elite team, investigates the theft of an armored truck. Their investigation leads them to an elite crew looking to take down a major score. O’Shea Jackson, Jr, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Pablo Schreiber co-star.
Character motives are key to a bank heist story. On the surface, Mr. Gudegast and Paul Scheruing’s (TV’s ‘Prison Break,’ “A Man Apart,” “The Experiment”) script misses this mark. We get murky characters who move throughout the film, whose function is to essentially stop one another. Yes, they are calculating, but they are doing it without any thought. Now, one would think that this is the prime reason for being a rogue. And, yet, there was no motive.
Mr. Gudegast understands his frame, and so the look of the film flows with an acceptable pace. However, his use of flashbacks distracts us, and apparently himself, from the key objective. Secondary to this, is the rehashed trope of a “detective on the edge”. In contrast to Al Pacino’s Vincent Hannah from “Heat,” Mr. Butler’s Nick O’Brien takes his self-abuse further. It’s an interesting experiment on the character. In the hands of another actor, it might have worked better, but I think both Mr. Butler and Mr. Gudegast put the character so far into ‘overdrive’ that the side story became irrelevant because it didn’t change his motive.
The rogues on the wrong side of the law have even fewer personal motivations, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t cool to watch on the screen. The trouble is that none of them are relatable, although as the investigation uncovers their histories, questions arise, which ultimately remain unanswered. I don’t necessarily think these details were meant to be addressed, but they felt like these details subverted the true potential of the film.
There’s a scene in the middle of the movie that pays homage to several other bank heist films and its linkage with the third act is probably the most ingenious part of this narrative. This is because the cast and crew are firing on all of their cylinders. It, unfortunately, leads into a protracted third act and the payoff.
The characters and the story deliver the payoff. But, it is not well-earned and that’s this film’s biggest flaw. A lack of motivation doesn’t yield the results you seek, even if you busted your ass to get there.
It’s funny the way Hollywood works out its release schedule. For two weeks in a row, two of the creatives behind “London Has Fallen” have had their respective releases: Babk Najafi’s “Proud Mary” and now Mr. Gudegast’s debut film here. I’d like to see more of what Mr. Gudegast has in his gas tank because I think he can go the distance. “Den of Thieves” has glimmers of his brilliance, but it isn’t there just yet.
2 out of 4 stars