Movie review: Den of Thieves

I have a confession to make: I’m secretly a Gerard Butler fan. Yes, the guy is approaching Cage-levels of bad taste in his projects and he looks like the older brother of former Pirates reliever Jason Grilli, but somehow, I wind up watching his movies and thinking, “That wasn’t too bad.” (Except that weird one where Butler and a bunch of white people cosplay as ancient Egyptians – even I have to draw the line somewhere.)

So yeah, I was excited to see DEN OF THIEVES even though the trailers practically screamed, “WE ARE A B-MOVIE KNOCKOFF OF HEAT, PLEASE WATCH!” and the January release date portended disaster. And make no mistake, “Den” is clearly a ripoff of “Heat,” which IMHO, is one of the greatest films of all time. But, instead of hating it for that reason, I was able to grudgingly appreciate its pleathery, diet-flavored charms, especially since it also apes “The Usual Suspects” in its finale.

Butler, in all his sweaty and unshaven glory, stars as Big Nick, the slovenly leader of a crew of cops that the movie would like us to believe is bad-ass, but actually winds up serving as a guide as to why people distrust cops in the first place. Nick and boys act without impunity, and to be honest, since we never see them deal with any other cases besides this one, which they have struggled to solve for 10 years, don’t seem to be very good at their jobs. (Several times during the movie, people remark on how bad Nick smells or looks, which gives you an idea of what we’re talking about here.)

On the other side is Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), the meticulous leader of an efficient crew of bank robbers whose opening-scene heist goes south, leading to a bloody shootout with the local police. Merriman and his boys, including right-hand men Enson (50 Cent) and Bosco (Evan Jones) are the the military-trained specialists, while Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is the wheelman. Their latest plot revolves around stealing $30 million in dead money from the Federal Reserve, a bank that has never been robbed.

Co-writer and director Christian Gudegast follows the “Heat” formula to a tee, showing us the family lives of both cops and crooks, while setting up the epic nature of the heist. He even gives us a version of the Pacino-DeNiro diner scene, as Nick and Merriman have a wordless showdown at a gun range. And like the better, older film, “Den” will have you rooting for the bad guys, who have put so much thought and care into their plans only to have them seemingly foiled by fly-by-night, lucky police work.

Gudegast is pushing his limits by asking viewers to sit through 140 minutes, but the film winds up strangely compelling, with riveting shootouts and some genuine tense moments as the robbery unfolds. And, to the film’s credit, I didn’t see the ending coming.

Butler does a good job with the part, and feels more believable as a burnt-out, semi-dirty cop who smells like alcohol than as an uber-awesome Secret Service agent or a romantic interest for Katherine Heigl. I don’t know much about Schreiber (yes, I know, “Wire” fans), but he’s appropriately menacing and calculating as the bad guy. Jackson continues to impress, with a long career in Hollywood on the horizon.

Despite the odds, “Den of Thieves” is a better-than-average thriller. It won’t make you forget “Heat,” but as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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~ by Elliott on January 23, 2018.

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