Set in Los Angeles, Den of Thieves follows two rival gangs through the streets of the city of angels. It just so happens that one of these gangs is an actual criminal gang led by the recently released Ray Merrimen and the other is a local sheriff’s office headed by the similarly seemingly criminal Big Nick O’Brien.
So the plot of Den of Thieves feels like a bad mix of all the good Hollywood crime dramas. However, writer/director Christian Gudegast, whose only previous film of note was London Has Fallen a subpar sequel to a subpar action film, does not understand what made those great. We have elements of Heat and The Usual Suspects and Ocean’s Eleven in here and they are contradicting and compromise each other incredibly. While it is clear that Gudegast wanted there to be a relationship between Merrimen and Big Nick, he neither sets it up in a satisfying way or pays it off at all. The Usual Suspects’ twist compromises that relationship as it is no longer a battle of wits between the two you thought it was, but instead, it makes the inclusion of the dynamic pointless. Finally, the twist comes out of nowhere without expectation and, while the final reveal of Kaiser Sozey is sharp and littered with details in the film, Den of Thieves has scenes we have not seen before and one brief mention of how in control the character is.
To make matters worse the film is littered with the worst kind of muscle-bound testosterone-fueled macho men that have ever escaped from a Michael Bay film. These obnoxious tough guys swagger around the screen, grunting and showing off how stacked they are but offer nothing of deep character exploration, except brief snippets of Big Nick’s broken home life and one of the criminals called Levi, whose daughter goes to a prom. Both gangs are only separated by the supposed thin blue line, however, in actuality there is actually little difference between the two gangs. Now there could be a point made about how corrupt the police force is and all that but the film lacks any true character conflict to back that up. Pablo Schreiber’s Ray Merrimen is supposedly one of the main characters but I cannot tell you anything about him; all Schreiber does is present Merriman as the stoic tough guy. The same can be said Gerrard Butler, who grunts his way through his dialogue as Big Nick, and Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, who is still cast in movies despite a crippling inability to act.
Now I will say that during the final heist I was genuinely tense, especially when Donnie is being chased down by one of the people that work at the Federal Reserve Bank. However, all that is lost as the final scene devolves into one of the most boring gunfights I have ever seen. Oh, and a British accent that rivals Dick Van Dyke’s from Mary Poppins.
Den of Thieves comes off as a film made by the poor man’s Michael Bay; a swaggering clichéd mess of muscle and lead. It has pretensions of greatness, with allusions to other more classic modern crime and action movies. However unlike those that it so eagerly emulates it misses the point entirely, coming off as though it were written by some teenager who had a recent action movie binge.
You can watch Den of Thieves in cinemas now