Reel Reviews | Den of Thieves

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

A heist movie in January? This can’t possibly be good…or can it?

An elite unit from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department led by Lt. Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler ) squares off against a crew of highly trained ex-military thieves. Merriman (Pablo Schreiber) leads the crew in planning what seems to be the job of all jobs, an impossible heist worth 300 million dollars, at LA’s Federal Reserve Bank. Flanagan and his team track down Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), a new member of the crew, and get him to be their inside man. Merriman and Levi (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) quickly find that Donnie is talking to the cops and use him to tauntingly feed the cops the information about the heist.

Traditionally, January is a month where movies go to die. Because it is so far away from time for award consideration, studios usually use the time of year to release clear their coffers of likely bombs that would not hurt a studio or director or actor in their pursuit of Oscar glory. If a movie like the first John Wick or even Get Out get released during this season, it is usually because the studio underestimated what they had. I believe that this is the case with this film.

Writer Christian Gudegast (A Man Apart, London Has Fallen) has created a familiar classic in his first outing as a director. The plot of the movie plays like a combination of Heat and The Usual Suspects and is decently creative in its story. The movie takes its time in developing its characters and doesn’t make bad guys just be bad nor are the good guys completely good. The complexity of the main characters creates real drama as the story unfolds and the action kicks in.

Visually, the movie is bright and accessible. Nothing is hidden. The shots are crisp and concise. Despite the work they do, the absence of grit and grime speaks to the precision with which everyone possesses. The actors communicate verbally but the numerous close-ups employed by Gudegast allow them to also access the non-verbal aspects of their roles. Everything in this movie seems to be right in front of you. This is a good trick because as the movie plays, it becomes clear that the things that are seen are not all that they seem.

The soundtrack is super effective in that it does not dominate the movie. Theme music highlights where it should but allows the pop, crack and bang of each gunshot to resonate. On a psychological level, one of the most basic fears is the sound of loud noises. Each gunshot, some in rapid succession, startles and shakes the viewers to their core and initiates the adrenaline response from that primal fear. The tension of each action scene becomes palpable. In short, the gunplay increases your pulse rate to engage you in the movie.

Butler (300, Law Abiding Citizen), who worked on Gudegast’s London Has Fallen, is intense in this film. He is enthralling playing the gloriously mean, womanizing cop who also has a tender heart for his daughters. His work in this movie may be the best he has done as measured in severe complexity. However, Butler’s intensity is matched by Schreiber (American Gods) playing who is just as mean and vicious and yet just as complex. Their face-offs are nowhere near as cerebral as those between Pacino and DeNiro in Heat but strikingly similar in intricacy. O’Shea Jackson continues to display serious acting ability in playing the trapped-in-the-middle Donnie who is the most complex character of all.

The only drawback for the movie is the runtime. Thieves feels like it could use a little trimming but much like Heat, the complete character development in the story is important to the film. The true power in the film lies in its convoluted entanglements and depth of characters.

Grade: B