Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

Without even going over to Rotten Tomatoes I bet there are two things about Den of Thieves there.  #1 – I bet that critics probably hate this film and #2 There are many comparisons to Heat or that this flick is a “Heat” ripoff.  I’m not even going to go look there to prove myself right.  I’m just going to assume how right I am.  You can compare the excellent gunfights in Den of Thieves to Heat.  You can compare the plot to Heat which is cops and robbers in an awesome cat and mouse game.  Heat was a masterpiece – a gem in Michael Mann’s stunning filmography.

But Den of Thieves?  The second I saw the trailer I knew the film was for me.  I’m sad that one of my favorite parts from the trailer was cut out of the film, but so be it.  Den of Thieves was very entertaining.  It had its flaws, had some puzzling screenwriting choices, but was really quite suspenseful at times.  The heist really had me on the edge of my seat.  Well done, well directed, and well acted.

The story kicks off with an armored car heist.  Men descend upon the vehicle.  They are all dressed in covert gear and automatic weapons at the ready.  The heist goes bad and the cops come.  A firefight ensues but the perps get away with the armored car.  The kicker?  There’s nothing inside.  The criminals didn’t want the cash.  They wanted the car.

Big Nick (Gerard Butler) is a lieutenant with Major Crimes who runs his own little crew.  They do it their way and their way seems to be the dirty way.  Big Nick and his gang try to figure out what exactly is going on and who could pull of a heist as sophisticated as this.  That leads them to one man: Merrimen.

Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) is an ex-military badass with a team that includes Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), Levi (50 Cent), and Bosco (8 Mile’s Evan Jones).  Merrimen isn’t out to rob any old bank.  He has a plan to rob the Federal Reserve Los Angeles branch.  They have an intricate plan to get in, snag the money, and get out.  They have the equipment, they have the know-how, and they have the talent.  Unfortunately they also have Big Nick and his cops on their tails.

Big Nick knows how to find Merrimen.  He knows who is in his little gang.  But Big Nick doesn’t want to take them down until they’ve committed the crime.  So a cat and mouse game ensues between the cops and the criminals.  This being a heist film we all know they are going to go in and at least get away with the actual heist.  But having a loose cannon like Big Nick adds a very interesting narrative to the whole “bank robber movie” scenario.

There is one huge gaping plot hole that wraps up right at the end in a Usual Suspects kind of twist.  I didn’t buy it.  I’m sure no one bought it.  But here’s the thing.  You come for a big dumb movie about bank robbers and shootouts and bad cops who don’t give a crap.  So I’m not worried about the minutiae.  For this kind of movie you know what to expect when you walk in.  Cops who will beat the crap out of you, criminals that you want to root for, and an obscene amount of gunplay.  In this Den of Thieves truly delivers.

I liked Butler in the role.  I was surprised how much of his family life was in the movie (this also happens with 50 Cent’s family as well).  It feels like they try to humanize the bad cop and the bad guy.  It just felt like filler.  Honestly when I was watching the film and these scenes popped up, I thought they would be great for a Den of Thieves TV show on FX.  It’s the kind of stuff you would find in a series where they want to develop the characters more.  Did it work in this film?  Not for me.  I really didn’t care.  Big Nick was an asshole so he deserves what he gets from his family.  If anything having Donnie’s family means more.  They seem like a nice family living in the suburbs.  You don’t want 50 Cent to get caught because you want his family to be okay.  I actually didn’t feel that way about Big Nick’s family.  I felt they would be better without him.

I think comparing the gunplay from Den of Thieves to Heat is quite apt because I feel that this is the best movie since Heat to have this kind of tense gun sequences on the streets.  It’s been done after Heat but nothing in the past 20+ years has come close.  In this Den of Thieves delivers the goods once again.

I dug the actors.  I like Pablo Schreiber a lot – I think he has a great presence and is a great actor.  Liked him WAAAYYYYY back in the day on The Wire and liked him on Orange is the New Black.  He looked ex-military.  He moved ex-military.  Hell everyone moved ex-military.  I’m not sure who prepped these guys for these roles but they looked the part.  They actually used their site apertures for some precise shooting.  Go figure.  They used the rifles the way they were supposed to be used.  Again – color me impressed.  I really like Jackson’s acting.  Kid has acting chops just like his pop.  Good to see him in this role and I hope he does more in the future.  My dude Brian Van Holt from Cougar Town is one of the badass cops in this flick but he isn’t given much to do beyond being a badass.

There is a twist at the end that really…it wasn’t great.  It actually lends itself to a sequel so I would enjoy if they made that happen.  But it was just weird for a film like this to have a twist like this.  Maybe that’s why they did it?  To differentiate themselves?  Who knows.

This film could have lost 20 to 30 minutes of exposition and unneeded plot to make a much more even film.  Beyond that Den of Thieves was a great action flick.  I don’t think they had much hope for the film which is why STXfilms may have dumped it in the middle of January.  Personally I highly recommend it.  If you like movies like this with bad cops, badasses, and shootouts, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it just as much as I did.

RATING: B+

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