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Film Review – Den of Thieves (2018)

Gerard Butler isn’t a stranger to action films, and he’s at it again in Den of Thieves, a gritty heist film in the vein of Heat and others like it.  The quality of his films haven’t exactly been stellar as of late, but Den of Thieves might point towards a changing of the tide for Butler and everyone else involved.  The following review will be spoiler free.

Den of Thieves

Synopsis

Directed By: Christian Gudegast

Written By: Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring

Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson

A group of convicts turned cold-blooded thieves led by Merriman (Schreiber) are responsible for every high stakes robbery in the Los Angeles area in the past few years.  While they could get out of the game without any more casualties, they instead double down and plan their biggest job yet — robbing the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve.

However, a group of loose cannon cops in the major crimes unit led by Nick O’Brien (Butler) are hot on their tail, becoming more cocky and ruthless by the minute.  If Merriman and his team want to pull off the heist of the century, they’ll need to perform perfectly.

Background

Gerard Butler hasn’t exactly had the best run of it in recent years, starring in some pretty noteworthy flops.  There’s no doubt that he’s always had a noticeable onscreen presence, but he might want to hire a team to place him in better projects.  Since his breakout turn as Leonidas in Zack Snyder’s 300 back in 2007, take a look at his complete filmography:

P.S. I Love You

Nim’s Island

RocknRolla

The Ugly Truth

Gamer

Law Abiding Citizen

The Bounty Hunter

How to Train Your Dragon

Coriolanus

Machine Gun Preacher

Chasing Mavericks

Playing for Keeps

Hunter Killer

Movie 43

Olympus Has Fallen

Motor City

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Gods of Egypt

London Has Fallen

A Family Man

Geostorm

Aside from a few outliers, does that list of films look even somewhat attractive?  I’ll answer that one for you — no, no it does not.  However, Butler continues to star in films.  Why?  Who knows, but we all harken back to his some of his more inspired roles, longing for him to return to his prior level of overly macho.

Whether Den of Thieves accomplishes that task remains unanswered in the court of public opinion for now — but Butler has at least one person rooting for him.

Gerard Butler Gives His Best Performance in Years

If you ask me, Den of Thieves is like rediscovering Gerard Butler all over again.  The creative team knew exactly how to use Butler — as a testosterone-fueled hot-head that never plays by the rules.  Butler is easily the most interesting character in the film, walking around with his chest puffed out as he stares down his next potential fight.  He’s a cop with zero limits — meaning that literally nothing is out of his reach.  If you aren’t careful, he’ll sleep with a stripper in your own home just to get a rise out of you — seriously.

Den of Thieves could have gone the generic route, forcing Butler to look intense with nothing else to his character.  However, director Christian Gudegast adds a surprising amount of depth to Butler’s character, creating a villain that is absolutely a worthy adversary.  The story creates a situation where he has literally nothing to lose.  It puts him over the edge, but it also adds a sense of redeemability.

Butler overacts in the best sense of the word.  He’s hilarious, gruesome, and a tad stupid.  But, each characteristic works within the context of the story.  In a few years, Nick O’Brien might become a cult favorite character if Den of Thieves becomes successful.

Den of Thieves Stays Away from Becoming Generic

Let’s be honest, you’ve heard this premise before.  A group of criminals coming together to form an all-star team of bank robbers isn’t exactly inventive.  Even more so, a grizzled, damaged cop chasing them down only adds to that feeling.  But, Den of Thieves uses its situation to continuously subvert expectations, twisting and turning for a narrative that keeps you guessing.  Throughout the film, the bad guys turn into good guys only to then turn back into bad guys again.  It’s a bizarre shift that may turn some people off to the movie altogether, but it keeps things fresh.  I’m not so sure that the logic in every twist and turn checks out completely, but they are performed in such a manner that you can suspend disbelief to a point and still find everything somewhat plausible.

Den of Thieves also creates a solid sense of anxiety and tension.  Once the heists begin, you are absolutely in it from start to finish.  The film uses a drone-like score that creeps into the subconscious, adding a palpable sense of paranoia to each scene.  At any moment, you feel as if each of the members of the team could be caught.

This movie digs into its masculine exterior.  Sometimes, all you need in a movie is for it to highlight a bunch of men that never skip a protein shake after a workout and watch them unload clip after clip from their large automatic weapons.  The action in Den of Thieves is solidly executed in that regard — accented by some of the best gun sound effects in recent memory.

Den of Thieves Might Be Too Unwieldy to Some

For all of its adrenaline-junkie charm, there are definitely some elements that weigh the film down.  Den of Thieves clocks in at about 140 minutes.  It certainly keeps you invested throughout, but there are easily some sequences that could have been chopped down or disregarded altogether.  Any film that includes Gerard Butler and 50 Cent should be 110 minutes — maybe 120 minutes if it’s actually working as a constructed film.  Den of Thieves works with its runtime to add detail to the world of high-stakes bank robbing.  But, you might find yourself asking, “was this all necessary?

That 140-minute runtime also didn’t help for a ton of character development.  You know your film doesn’t care a whole lot about each character when it has to flash text on the screen to tell you the names of certain characters.  Den of Thieves realizes that many of its characters are disposable, giving time to those that actually matter to the plot when it’s all said and done.

With its overly hard edge, a feeling of exhaustion can start to linger.  Watching guys who always do their bicep curls at the gym can become redundant — especially for those that can’t get past the film’s leaps in logic.

Final Thoughts

Logic and character development might not be exactly on point, but Den of Thieves is a surprisingly well-made film that is gripping from start to finish.  Director Christian Gudegast puts Gerard Butler squarely into his element, turning him into a testosterone-fueled cop with little to lose.

Unlike the typical January movie, Den of Thieves remains inventive despite is tired premise.  It’s grisly, relentless, and downright dirty, playing into the damaged nature of these characters.  For you MoviePass subscribers, this is the perfect film on which to take a chance.  It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it replaces achievements in art with bullet-filled entertainment.

Grade: B


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Nick Kush

A current young professional, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society. You can follow Nick at the official MovieBabble Twitter account @MovieBabble_

5 Responses

  1. raistlin0903 says:

    Actually really surprised at this review. I haven’t even watched a trailer for this as I was kind of fed up with the generic action films that Butler has been doing as of late. Totally convinced that I really need to check this out now though ??

    • Nick Kush says:

      Glad to help ya out! Den of Thieves is a perfect matinee/rental. It’s perfectly competent with some nice touches!

  2. film4fan says:

    Great review! I’m more than surprised that this film’s decent; I was expecting it to be a generic January-movie. I might have to check it out now.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I was feeling the same way as you as I entered the theater! It’s fun finding those pleasant surprises!

  3. Nick Kush says:

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