James Cole Clay// Film Critic
DEN OF THIEVES
DEN OF THIEVES has borrowed all the moving parts of a crime epic and appropriated them into a highly enjoyable piece of filmmaking that moves with electric action and captivating characters. However, writer-director Christian Gudegast (LONDON HAS FALLEN) never rises to the level of the classic films it admires so greatly. The film is complete with a cast that rises to talents they haven’t shown on camera in sometime; namely Gerard Butler, who gives a career best performance in the role of a sleazy cop who leads a task force hellbent on taking down a band of professional criminals.
Gudegast weaves a story of two separate groups of alpha males. On one side, you have elite marine turned criminal Ryan Merrimen (Pablo Schrieber) and his band of robbers, including Enson Leveaux (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Bosco (Evan Jones). But when they collide with Big Nick (Butler) and his posse who are fueled by testosterone, ego and pride, you’re on a course for destruction that surprisingly relies on more wits than braun. And finally crammed in the middle of these guys is a lowly bar tender/get away driver, Donnie Wilson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who may know more than we think.
DEN OF THIEVES’ surface level approach pulls zero punches, which is comes to finding pure entertainment in this grimy world. (On the commentary, Gudegast articulates how his team sets up each scene and showcases how technically proficient he is as an action filmmaker.) This film isn’t as moody as last year’s GOOD TIME, or as epic in nature as HEAT, but the sprawling nature is a more than acceptable piece of entertainment, especially for home viewing.
Most action films will focus on a simple plotting device (think DIE HARD), and that serves its purpose. But what Gudegast does so well is work out the logistical details of the heist combined with the quirks of his cast of characters. Clocking in at a daunting 140 minutes, DEN OF THIEVES continues to unwind its labyrinthian plot with ease and never lets the audience feel its length. Quietly outshining everybody in the film is Schrieber (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK); he’s the kind of guy who’s so charismatic he can convince a good man to commit murder.
This film knows its identity well. It doesn’t shy away from its completely gross portrayal of masculinity, while it never asks you to condone the behavior of these two groups of homies — you can see how their minds work. Don’t expect a great depth in psychology, but this take on an urban western is one of the true surprises of the year. With hardly a quiet moment and avoiding several pitfalls, DEN OF THIEVES makes robbing banks fun for the screen again.
Macho Bonus Features:
- An alternate ending
- Alpha Males – A spotlight on the cast
- Into the Den – A making-of