At one point while watching this very loud cops-and-bank-robbers thriller, you will find yourself wondering just what happened to Gerard Butler’s cop character Nick Flanagan to make him such an irredeemable asshat.
That question will arise around the time he looks at a picture of the lead bad guy – soldier-turned-criminal Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) – in uniform and asks, “What happened to you?”
It is easy to pick up on the irony of that question after about five minutes of watching Nick behave like a poster child for toxic masculinity to just about everyone in his life except for his two little daughters.
But it’s a question neither you nor Nick should bother with, because the film is not interested in giving us any answers.
Nope, it is mostly concerned with building up to the inevitable showdown between the two men, and then stringing us along for a little bit of (what its writers think is) cleverness after that.
Nick runs the baddest crew of crimebusters in Los Angeles. Merrimen and his not-Robin-Hoods are a violent heist crew planning something big.
To learn more about their plan, Nick pulls in their getaway driver Donnie (O’Shea Jackson) and piles the pressure on the poor guy to squeal on his pals.
There’s a lot of heat between the two bosses – or maybe I should say Heat, since this movie clearly wants to be this century’s answer to the highly-regarded 1995 Michael Mann movie. (Though there are worse Michaels to emulate, the bad boy in me says cheekily.)
But it doesn’t have the services of Al Pacino, or Robert De Niro, not to mention Mann himself. Scriptwriter-turned-director Christian Gudegast, who penned the Vin Diesel actioner A Man Apart and Butler’s own London Has Fallen, does not have the chops needed to build the tension towards Merrimen’s big score in an involving way.
Neither does his screenplay, co-written with Prison Break creator Paul Scheuring, have the multilayered depth to make us care very much who wins the cat-and-mouse game (frankly, at one point I was rooting for Merrimen).
Aside from Nick, Merrimen and Donnie, none of the other characters gets any screen time to be anything more than a peripheral figure. Curtis “Fiddy Sen” Jackson’s accomplice robber gets a comical Spider-Man: Homecoming moment with his daughter’s prom date, but that’s about all.
To give the filmmakers their due, the big heist – a more subtle caper than you would give these Merry Men credit for – has some pretty tense moments, and again, it almost seems as though Gudegast and Co. want us to be more invested in the robbers than the cops.
But a couple of things happen in the execution of this heist that – in the context of the ending – that make you realise, maybe this one wasn’t trying to emulate Michael Mann after all, but Steven Soderbergh.
Points for misdirection, then. But none for the one-dimensional, unlikeable characters inhabiting almost every frame of the movie who end up rendering the viewer incapable of giving a toot about what happens to them.
Any heat perceived here would be surface temperature only.
Den Of Thieves
Director: Christian Gudegast
Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Evan Jones