Den of Thieves is not the worst action movie you’ll see this year.
Heck, to be honest, some will strongly consider it a decent heist movie that delivers on enough thrills while others might say that it suffers under the weight of its own overbearing ambitions.
Den of Thieves is a heist thriller that promises so much with all the right ideas but somehow loses its way to its destination.
The movie starts with great promise with a daring robbery operation that spectacularly goes sideways and results in an intense shootout with the police.
This opening scene is a great hook to tease the viewers about what is to come, but it never gets quite as good.
Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) is the notorious leader of a reckless police unit hell-bent on thwarting Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), an ex-marine who has assembled a team of thieves to pull off a very difficult heist.
The movie sets these two groups against each other in the opening 15 minutes as the headstrong leaders of each group, on opposite ends of the law (but not really), are conditioned to antagonise each other.
Things only go downhill from here as the movie plunges into an unnecessarily elaborate plethora of cock-ups that make the experience less satisfying than it could have been.
Characters make inexplicably terrible decisions that reflect poorly on Christian Gudegast, the writer of the script who’s also the movie’s director.
Some of these poor character choices are a result of the movie’s attempt to be too clever in pulling the wool over the viewers’ eyes so much that it simply makes leaps in logic that defy belief and put character development in shambles.
At a certain point in the movie, Nick, for some reason, shows his trump card to Merrimen in a manner that should have gotten somebody killed but somehow doesn’t.
Perhaps, the movie’s most significant disappointment is the lack of a gripping dramatic spark between Nick and Merrimen. There’s some tension, but not enough to properly boil an egg fit for consumption.
Gudegast has many chances to create this spark in a few encounters between both leading characters, but most of it ends up in arrogant chest-thumping that doesn’t just quite hit the mark well enough; and none of this is helped by the fact that these people keep making decisions that don’t make any sort of sense other than for cheap dramatic shock.
The big twist in Den of Thieves is very cleverly woven over the course of the movie that it is nearly impossible for anyone to have seen it coming.
It is an impressive turn of events that has the zing to transform an average movie into something you might even consider watching a second time, but it comes off as an underwhelming reward for the ponderous drudgery you’ve had to endure to get there.
The movie’s devotion to fleshing out Nick’s character in his personal life produces ludicrously predictable results that just unnecessarily pad the movie’s runtime when it could have gone into setting up better for the final act.
It even has enough minutes to spare for Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson‘s Levi Enson character to use the gang to bully his daughter’s prom date in the movie’s outstanding comic moment.
This scene also makes you realise how 50 Cent is criminally underused for a movie of this aggressive nature that thrives on extravagant machismo especially since that’s his playing field.
The movie’s biggest shining light is O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays Donnie, a bartender who moonlights as the getaway driver for Merrimen’s gang and is used by Nick as a pawn to keep tabs on the group.
Jackson Jr. plays Donnie with the sort of unassuming candour that fools other characters, and even the audience, into a false sense of who he really is.
The movie’s real heist itself, to rob an impregnable Federal Reserve Bank in Los Angeles, is a ballsy operation with a lot of moving parts that somehow works delightfully.
To the movie’s credit, the heist is intricately planned and pulled off, resulting in a final showdown between both sides of the law that’s a spectacle in spurts.
Despite their captivating shootout duel at the end, Butler and Schreiber fail to elevate Den of Thieves to the heights it could have ascended; their on-screen rivalry is simply too limp that it drags on the movie’s overall momentum.
Ultimately, it’s not that Den of Thieves is a bad movie, it just fails to rise above its own ambitions. One moment, it’s Heat, and then it’s The Usual Suspects; but, like, a half-hearted imitation of both.
Den of Thieves starts well, and ends decently; but in trying to be two things at the same time, it robs itself of its own identity.