Gerard Butler playing a brutal cop… sold. Just… just sold. Take my money, I’m so down.
The movie looks like it’s about two factions, the criminals, and the gritty cops tasked to bring down the criminals. The criminals are good at what they do, but they want to tackle something bigger, and the cops are obviously there to bring them down by any means necessary.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Gerard Butler (GEOSTORM , HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON , and upcoming films KEEPERS  and ANGEL HAS FALLEN ), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (INGRID GOES WEST , STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON , and upcoming films LONG SHOT  and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS ), Pablo Schreiber (13 HOURS , and upcoming films BEAST OF BURDEN  and FIRST MAN ) and 50 Cent (POPSTAR , SOUTHPAW , SPY , and the upcoming ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have Christian Gudegast, making his directorial debut. Congrats, sir. But he’s written LONDON HAS FALLEN (2016). Gudegast’s partner-in-pen is Paul Scheuring, known for TV shows: PRISON BREAK and HALO: NIGHTFALL. Composing the score is Cliff Martinez, known for THE FOREIGNER (2017), THE NEON DEMON (2016), and the upcoming GAME NIGHT (2018). The cinematographer is Terry Stacey, known for A DOG’S PURPOSE (2017), ELVIS & NIXON (2016), and the upcoming THE ANGEL (2018). Finally, the editor is Joel Cox, known for ALL EYEZ ON ME (2017).
Overall, I think this movie is going to be pretty bad ass. Good, bad, I doubt it’s going to truly matter. I just want to see Butler kick ass as usual. So long as he does, I’ll be a happy little Peruvian boy.
This is my honest opinion of: DEN OF THIEVES
Set in Los Angeles. The story follows former military-turned-hardened-criminal Ray Merriman (Pablo Schreiber) and grizzled special crimes Sheriff Nick “Big Nick” O’Brien (Gerard Butler). Merrimen is eager to rob the Federal Reserve with his crew, including newcomer Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), a regular bartender as a day job. But after their latest heist, which resulted in one of their men getting killed, special crimes unit of the Sheriff’s department, specifically Nick and his unit of ruthless sheriffs. Managing to figure out that Donnie was one of their crew, they pick him up and manage to get information out of him, leading to a both sides figuring out how to beat the other.
It’s a whole lot of… meh. I mean, it’s awesome when it needs to be, but when it isn’t, it’s kind of boring. That’s… been a theme for a lot of movies I’ve been seeing lately now that I think about it.
Okay, so first thing’s first, the acting is not the problem. All of the more centerfold actors do a great job selling their roles. Schreiber, Jackson Jr., they all do well in their performances. Butler does the best job out of all of them, as he’s just that charismatic and we learn more about his character than anyone else’s. Considering that the man has a reputation for being one of the nicest actors in Hollywood, both among his co-stars, crew, and his fans, it’s especially entertaining to see him play arguably his most lewd, racist, and asshole performance of his career, and that’s saying something since he was in 300. He’s a hostile husband, bringing out the worst in both him and his wife Debbie (Dawn Olivieri), entering houses without consent. Basically, he’s not a likable character, but Butler makes it work in a likable kind of way. Having said all that, Nick has a magnum for a brain. As entertaining as Butler’s performance can be, it’s still pretty one-note. See him in a scene, he says something that makes him a bastard. Rinse and repeat. It gets a little old, not to mention charisma from the actor only gets you so far if the audience needs to invest in them, which is impossible on every front. Why should I care about Merrimen? Why should I care about Nick? They’re all unsavory men without many redeeming qualities. Merrimen is just a thief. What else is there to his character? Nick is a bastard cop? What else is there? And don’t say that he has a family. They have such little impact that you could take out their scenes and not only not miss anything by way of plot, but you’ll shorten this unnecessary two and a half hour run time.
That’s really everything that holds the movie back. But I can’t pretend that there aren’t some good things in the movie, aside from the actors. There’s a hilarious scene where Levi Enson (50 Cent) greets his daughter’s prom date into their home and does the ritual hazing of the father playfully threatening the date. He brings the kid into the family garage where he’s met with the entire crew, Merrimen and everyone else, exposed tattoos and looking menacing as hell. When the kid leaves, everyone’s having a thunderous laugh, and I’d be lying if I didn’t laugh as well. That was about the most human moment out of the criminals. There’s another scene, absolutely brilliant in its execution, where Nick is down in the dumps, brings home a stripper for the night, and then the next morning, Merrimen walks right into Nick’s house when he’s getting out of the shower, completely unarmed. But Merrimen doesn’t threaten him with his own weapon or anything, they just stand in relative awkward silence, no confrontation, Nick leaves Merrimen in his house, and we see that the stripper was working for him the entire time. It was a seriously tense scene that I had no idea how would end. Granted, it ended in a very strange fashion. Like, why wouldn’t Nick try to arrest Merrimen, or attack him, or anything of that nature? But no, it ends the way it does and it’s both kinda stupid, but mostly bad-ass.
And of course, the climax. It’s about this point that I kind of caught on to what the movie was shooting for (pun totally intended). It was basically trying to be HEAT (1995). The similarities are there, don’t you think? Starts off with an awesome action scene with heavily armed masked men robbing an armored truck, someone dies and fucks things up for everyone else, tough and gruff police officer of some negative repute, ending with an epic firefight in public? The basic buildings blocks seem to be there. HEAT was a long movie too wasn’t it? Yup! Two hours and fifty minutes, whereas THIEVES clocks in at two hours and twenty minutes. Both pretty lengthy movies, all padded out with a shit load of character development and a growing rivalry between the bad guy leader and the cop. Here’s my problem, though. Obvious statement: HEAT did this so much better. Aside from having one of the most incredible heavy-weight actors of their generation, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, as well as other acting greats Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, a young as hell Natalie Portman, just to name a few, each of these actors were on their A-game in this movie. What does THIEVES have? Butler? Don’t get me wrong, I certainly like him as a man and he’s a fun and energized actor, but he’s no Al Pacino, and Nick is no Vincent Hanna. At least with HEAT, the characters are far more complex, far more interesting. Vincent Hanna is definitely a hard man, a .50 caliber asshole, but we do get glimpses of his humanity. He feels like a regular dude, married to both his wife and his job and has trouble keeping one stable. We see the love he has for his troubled teen daughter, and so many other great scenes. THIEVES doesn’t have any of that. Nick’s got a dysfunctional marriage. Okay, that’s pretty cut and paste in these gritty cops and robbers movies. But we don’t see why it’s such a struggle for him to maintain his marriage. He’s just an idiot who accidentally texted his wife about a hot piece of ass instead of his buddy. We never truly see Nick’s humanity. I know my words are getting pretty repetitive, but I really wanted to emphasize what my problems were with the very foundation of this story, and because I see the parallels between this film and HEAT, it’s impossible for me to not compare and contrast.
Now, does that mean that this movie bad? No. I’ve already mentioned that there is some entertainment to be had, it’s mostly competently written and made, the action is awesome, the actors do a fine enough job, especially Butler, but the characters have no meat, their motivations are bland, entire plot points could be taken out of the story and nothing would change, and because the audience can’t invest in any of the characters, the movie drags and gets boring one too many times. My recommendation… viewer beware. It is nearly two and a half hours and it’s a slow burn, so keep that in mind. If you must see this in theaters, I recommend a matinee showing, or discount day at your local cinema, as a good chunk of your day will be over by the time the credits roll. Best bet would be to wait for a rental, or Netflix, or any other streaming service. I wouldn’t say it was any particular waste of time, but I wouldn’t see it again. I’d rather watch HEAT. These thieves aren’t packing enough… “heat,” if you catch my drift.
My honest rating for DEN OF THIEVES: 3/5