Den of Thieves
Updated: Feb 5, 2020
Den of Thieves is an action/thriller about a gang of intelligent bank robbers being hunted by a group of ruthless police officers. It is a long (a ridiculous 133 minutes without the end credits) and boring film with ugly dialogue and unlikable characters. Though it is salvaged somewhat by the well done heist sequence that takes up most of its second half, it is not nearly as smart as its characters are supposed to be.
The robbers are a five man crew consisting of Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber, from television shows Orange is the New Black and American Gods), Levi (rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr., who impressed last year in Ingrid Goes West), Bosco (Evan Jones) and Mack (Cooper Andrews, from AMC series’ The Walking Dead and Halt and Catch Fire). Merriman is the brains of the operation and is known for coming up with detailed and effective plans. After their scheme to steal an armored car turns deadly, they catch the eye of Major Crimes. They are led by Big Nick, who is played by Gerard Butler as an arrogant, violent jerk who considers himself to be above the law. The bulk of the film consists of Merriman and his crew preparing for their next job while Nick and his men try to figure out what they are up to so they can stop them.
There is so much in the long setup portion of the film that feels unnecessary. There are several scenes dealing with Nick’s family life that are not interesting, have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie and do not pay off in any way whatsoever. And there is also an entire subplot involving Nick and his unit kidnapping Donnie, the gang’s driver, to try and get information out of him. That at least gets paid off, kind of. But there are far more efficient ways to get to the same conclusion. Regardless, it certainly wasted a lot of time.
The biggest problem with Den of Thieves is that none of the characters are worth spending time with. Nick is a very unpleasant person with no redeeming qualities I could see. He is an even less likable version of Gerard Butler’s usual character. Butler has been typecast as an antiauthority jerk and it is not a role he is very good in. The only others characters to really get established are Donnie and Merrimen. Donnie is the nice guy who drives because he desperately needs the money. There is not much more to him than that. Merrimen is more complex, at least on the surface. He is an ex-con who is really good at devising elaborate robberies. He is a professional, not a thug. Den of Thieves establishes these traits with dialogue, but never actually does anything with them. Which is a shame because a movie that was actually about that character could have been much more interesting than what we got instead.
Den of Thieves is a heist movie that plays at being something more, but does not have the depth or creativity to be anything other than a bloated genre picture. The heist sequence is well-paced and clever enough to be mildly engaging. But the first half, filled with pointless subplots and cliché tough guy dialogue, is just killing time. Little about the planned heist is revealed because the filmmakers wanted to surprise viewers. That is fine in theory, but it makes much of this film a chore to sit through. On top of that, the ending is both stupid and obvious; a deadly combination.
January has traditionally been a month where the studios dump films they do not have high opinions of in the hope that they could maybe exceed expectations against lesser competition. Den of Thieves feels like one of those films.
1½ out of 5
Gerard Butler as Nick
Pablo Schreiber as Merrimen
O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Donnie
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Levi
Evan Jones as Bosco
Cooper Andrews as Mack
Brian Van Holt as Murph
Directed by Christian Gudegast
Written by Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring