Den of Thieves – Film Review by Cal Byrne
Directed by Christian Gudegast
Written by Christian Gudegast & Paul Scheuring
Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Curtis Jackson (50 Cent)
The sight of 50 Cent and the spawn of Ice Cube appearing side-by-side in a cop thriller truly is a joyous thing. It fills the mind with the kind of excitement that is only relatable to a child at Christmas. The wisecracks; the needless gags; the over the top explosions – all of it fills your mind with glee and all of it is great. Unfortunately for all of us, Christian Gudegast’s Den of Thieves is actually a serious film. So serious in fact that there is barely a joke cracked across its 122min. What a shame.
What’s an even greater shame is that the story is relatively intelligent too. It follows Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) and his band of not-so-merry thieves (50 Cent, O’Shea Jackson) as they attempt to rob the LA Federal Reserve. Standing in their way is ‘Big Nick’ O’Brien (Gerard Butler) and his crew of renegade county sheriffs. They drink too much, smoke too much and apparently have no awareness of the fact that they are the lowest rung of law enforcement. As ‘Big Nick’ reassures Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr): “You’re not the bad guys … we are”.
This flip of the traditional format could have worked if Gudegast had simply stuck with it. ‘Big Nick’ is clearly the ultimate asshole cop and doesn’t have a redeemable line or act within the first 40 minutes. Then Big Nick’s arc does a volte-face (of sorts) as we’re introduced to his wife, kids and a rather messy impending divorce. Suddenly, we’re expected to feel sorry for a man whose idea of ‘ interrogation’ involves a hotel suite filled with strippers and Jack Daniels. Sorry Nick, but you’re on your own in this one.
Despite its character issues, the plot of this film works pretty well. The information is let out in drips and drabs, and the plot takes enough unexpected turns to leave you relatively satisfied in the end. 50 Cent is wisely kept under close surveillance, with the rapper mainly kept to confirming lines and moody looks. Whether the irony of Fiddy acting as a bank robber after his recent bankruptcy was lost on the New Yorker is open for the viewer to speculate.
Den of Thieves also has a surprising amount of space on offer for a movie of this genre. The camera work is slow and allows time for the audience to settle. Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack has a light touch and allows the sounds of the city to seep through. Christian Gudegast’s love for LA is clearly stamped all over this film – from the numerous high sweeping shots of the skyline to the careful sign-posting of every new location.
It’s a shame that a lot of this good work is ruined by an incredibly weak script. Everybody seems to talk like they’re a 14-year-old who’s trying to impress a girl somewhere in the distance who is definitely not listening. Even Big Nick – a man with a wife and two kids – spits so many ‘bros’ and ‘dudes’ you wonder when the extended skateboard/car chase is coming.
Optimistically, the writers leave Den of Thieves open for a sequel. Gudegast showed enough promise in his directorial debut to deserve another crack, but it’s probably best for everyone if this set of characters are left where they lie.