Directed By: Christian Gudegast
Screenplay By: Christian Gudegast
Story By: Christian Gudegast & Paul Scheuring
Produced By: Mark Canton, p.g.a Tucker Tooley, p.g.a.
Produced By: Gerard Butler Alan Siegel
Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Meadow Williams, Maurice Compte, Brian Van Holt, Evan Jones, Mo McRae, Kaiwi Lyman, Dawn Olivieri, Eric Braede, Jordan Bridges, Lewis Tan, Cooper Andrews, Nate Boyer, John Lewis.
I’m a huge fan of Heat (1995) – a crime thriller that graces my ‘Best of the Thrillers’ list and I’ll go there and state one of the best crime thrillers ever made.
In the same vein of Heat, Den of Thieves shows an armed robbery with machine guns and ski masks: these guys are ex-military and they handle their hard-wear like they’re still on the field of battle.
Led by special forces-trained and recently paroled, Ray Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), meet the Outlaws.
But when a robbery goes wrong and cops are killed, the Major Crimes Unit gets involved. These guys are like a gang with tats included. Add a badge and you’ve got the Regulators.
As the leader, ‘Big’ Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) says, they literally take no prisoners.
So, you get the tone of the film from the start with a familiar storyline where two crews face-off in a male-dominated pissing competition to see who can be the grande of men.
And I was dubious about rapper, Curtis James Jackson III, AKA 50 Cent, playing a major role as Enson Levoux; part of the Outlaws crew. But hats off – 50 Cent can act as one big, scary robber/family man.
Talking of big scary dudes, it was cool to see some Pacific Islanders as part of the Outlaws crew; the effort made to authentically show Los Angeles’ southern-most neighbourhoods and one of many differences between Den of Thieves and its crime thriller predecessors.
The macho element pushed to its limit aside, there’s a point in the film where the script makes light of this brute male force with 50 Cent as Enson Levoux scaring the be-Jesus out of his daughter’s prom date by ushering him into a room full of his crew to confirm that yes, he’ll take care of his daughter, and yes, he promises to get her home by 11.30pm.
And the humanisation of these scary guys breaks the tension and leads to a more complicated and layered film with a high stakes play made by the Outlaws to rob the Federal Reserve Bank; a feat never successfully achieved and all the while under the surveillance of the Regulators leading to each crew trying to out-smart the other: showing brain more than brawn wins the game.
There’s clever building of tension with screenwriter and first-time director Christian Gudegast creating a film made of rapid gun fire and bullet casings spilling across the hood of cars, the soundtrack heaving with each impeding battle.
One notable scene with Big Nick and Ray Merriman shooting at a firing range – no words needed, just a show of skill and the double tap as ‘silver back’ Merriman shows his special ops training with a perfect configuration of shots through the target’s heart.
But a few holes in the story let down the believability.
Big Nick asks the question himself in the film, why did the Regulators go so bad?
And would police, even American, L.A. Major Crime Unit cops, open machine gun fire in a traffic jam?
And a few other bits (don’t want to give away too much of the story) that dent the cleverness of this multi-layered plot.
Overall, I was impressed with this film. Even if Gerard Butler (and yes, I’m going to say it, Al Pacino did the same in Heat) overplays his role, just that little bit.
Yes, there’s echoes of Heat here, but there’s also a nod to other classics such as, The Usual Suspects.
Although a missed opportunity to make a unique classic itself, Den of Thieves evolves from a pissing contest into a layered absorbing entertainer ending with a knock of my knuckle-duster on the cinema cup holder in salute.