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Movie Review: Den of Thieves

Jack Gross, Contributing Writer

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Rating: 6.5/10   Is it Worth It: Depends…

Reviewing a movie like “Den of Thieves” is tough, mainly because while entertaining, I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a good movie, whereas a lot of you may. I want to dive into the intricacies of the movie; mainly the identity, acting, and story structure. Finally I will explain why Den of Thieves could be considered a good movie to some, and a bad movie to others. Hopefully this will help you decide if the movie is worth watching.

IDENTITY

From the very first trailer I could tell this movie would have an identity crisis. This film sets out to be three different movies; a gritty crime drama, a fun heist adventure, and a classic cops versus robbers action film. However, these three separate films are lazily mashed into one failed movie.

The “gritty crime drama” aspect of Den of Thieves can be summarized in one anecdote. When Big Nick (Gerard Butler) is interrogating Donnie (O’shea Jackson Jr.), the audience is supposed to feel heavy tension. Things begin to slowly escalate until Donnie (O’shea Jackson Jr.) is being attacked by Big Nick (Gerard Butler), yet in the theater laughter fills the auditorium due to the ridiculousness of the scene. This is a prime example of this movie’s many misfires when it comes to trying to be a “gritty film.” Also, complete shifts from this tone make the inconsistencies all the more apparent. For example, this movie cuts from a dangerous shootout between robbers and cops (with multiple fatalities) to a drunk officer investigating the crime scene and eating donuts from one of the killed cops. Not only does this destroy the momentum this film has, it adds a level of ridiculously that completely undermines the tone set in the scene right before it.  

The “fun heist” part of this film is actually quite interesting. Although is borrows heavily from the likes of Ocean’s 11 (dir. Steven Soderbergh), Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright) and sort of Takers (dir. John Luessenhop), it still has a entertaining heist that is fun to watch and really demonstrates the nervous thrill that should be apparent with heist movies. I feel this tone works the best in the film, yet is really only there for a short period.

And finally, the “cops vs. robbers” version felt over the top and forced into this film. The movie set out to make a movie where cops act more like criminals and criminals have more morals. Big Nick (Gerard Butler) felt like a caricature of a classic cliche cop, one that bends the rules to get what he wants. He would say things like “I don’t carry handcuffs” and do things like shoot his firearm at a gun range right next to the criminal he is trying to catch as intimidation. This whole cat and mouse theme felt incredibly over the top and forced, and even at times confusing. Questions like, “Why doesn’t he just arrest him?” and “Why does he care so much? If he’s not a hero, and doesn’t have a personal connection with the criminals, why does he try so hard?”. These questions (that will pop up in your head a lot during the movie) essentially ruin the “cops vs. robbers” feel this movie is trying so desperately hard to obtain.

ACTING

I can’t tell if it was the writing they were given, but I feel most actors in this film gave forgettable performances throughout this movie. Pablo Schreiber (who played Ray Merrimem), 50 Cent (who played Enson Levoux)and Evan Jones (who played Bo “Bosco” Ostroman) all had very boring performances, and just seemed very underdeveloped.

There are two exceptions to this however, and both of which are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. After his breakout role playing his father in Straight Outta Compton, O’Shea Jackson Jr. really shined in this film. He was the most developed, likable, and the one the audience could empathize with. Gerard Butler however, was far from good. I feel like the identity shifts really hurt him, but Butler seemed like a maniac with a gun to a caring father and poor husband. Butler shifted from a two-sided interesting character to a gun-ho cliche. The scene I mentioned early about is interrogation with Donnie (Jackson) is an example of this. Butler has maybe three scenes where his character is two-sided and intriguing, and this is when he is dealing with his family issues. Butler’s remaining scenes are compiled of random acts of aggression (both verbal and physical), attempts to intimidate Merrimem (Pablo Schreiber) in extreme and ridiculous ways, and finally just driving, running, and shooting.
STORY STRUCTURE

This film’s story is all over the place. Scenes of action that propel the story forward with potential seem to be slowed by these subplots that are forced in order to develop characters. Instead of talking about Big Nick’s (Gerard Butler) side story, I want to talk about another side story. In a desperate attempt to develop Levoux (50 Cent), director Christian Gudegast places a scene of him talking to the guy taking his daughter to prom. Already we have a cliche of “the strong intimidating dad scaring his daughters date before prom.” However, this movie is an action movie, and just as the story is developing, we cut to this scene. I understand this was most likely done for comedic relief, but it doesn’t do two main things a scene should do. One, it doesn’t move the main story forward, and two, it doesn’t build any exposition or character development. This is just an example of at least three other scenes like this that have no business being in the scene.

I would say my biggest issue I have with this movie is that zero empathy is built into the characters. Empathy is what makes shows like Game of Thrones and movies like Get Out and Baby Driver so good. If the audience doesn’t care about any of the characters, then regardless of how well the actors act, no one will care. Without this connection to a character, the movie loses all the emotion it is trying to evoke.

This movie has a twist, and without spoiling anything I can tell you, although it is relatively interesting, it is nothing new. This whole movie borrows heavily from other movies, and the plot twist is no different. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad plot twist, in fact, it’s relatively cool. And it makes watching this movie a second time kind not sound so bad. However, if you did this, plot holes would appear very rapidly. Questions like, “Why’d they do that?” and “Wait, if it ends like that, why would that happen?” would come up very quickly. The best way to describe this is that is seems very apparent that the writer knew how he wanted to end it, and just wrote a story around the end, rather than a cohesive and well thought story that comes to this ending naturally.

CONCLUSION

Overall, this movie isn’t a terrible choice if you like heist/action films with twists. And although you may enjoy it at first, I doubt “Den of Thieves” sticks with you for more than a few days. If enjoying a movie means sitting back, relaxing, and just getting into the story, then this movie will be fine. But if you are looking for a fundamentally sound film with no ridiculous scenes, this will be one you will surely want to skip.

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Movie Review: Den of Thieves