Den of Thieves

Doesn’t beat my Dack of Thieves

G ee, I wish more screenplays would explore that gray area between cop and criminal. If only that theme could come up more than a dozen times a year or so. Whaddaya think? I’m not sure Den of Thieves brought anything new to the argument, but it sure was intent on leveling the playing field – they got guns, we got guns. They got diversity, we got diversity. They do intimidation, we do intimidation. They have loose ethics, we have Gerard Butler.

The film opens with an armored car heist. One of the masked hoodlums gets a tad jumpy at the guard he’s caught, well, off-guard and shoots … which leads to shooting all of the guards on the scene. “Oh, thanks, Gary. Now we’re in trouble.” Adding stupid to stupidity, the thieves also stole just an empty armored car. As the Den of Thieves itself seems well-organized, this must have been the motivation for the crime. Who steals an empty armored car? There have to be easier ways of collecting an armored car, no? And now everybody is pissed off. Gang leader Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) is displeased that the felony murder will attract real cops. Luckily for them, instead it attracts “Big Nick” O’Brien (Butler).

You won’t believe this, but one of the biggest problems in Den of Thieves is font. Yes, font. This is one of those films in which they like to label things as in: “LOS ANGELES,” “BIG NICK,” “GIANT PILE OF FAILED DREAMS.” Thing is, if you’re not familiar with El Lay, “MERRIMEN” and “CARSON” both sound like “that could be a guy” and “that could be a city.” If the font is exactly the same, it’s hard to tell which it is.

There are two things I really disliked about the procedure in this film – 1) The cops fingered Merrimen within two minutes of getting together. Gosh, case solved. Wasn’t that fun? 2) The cops chose not to investigate Merrimen, but instead surveyed he and his crew, even taking criminal peon Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) hostage to turn him into an inside man. You guys don’t want to investigate the triple homicide? Just want to see this thing play out into another crime spree?  No? Well, you’re the boss. And this is all to set up a “who can be the uglier human being” contest between Big Nick and Merrimen. As Nick’s after-hours excursions often involve stripper bars, I give the win to Nick at Nite.

I still can’t get over how much O’Shea Jackson Jr. reminds me of his father (well, gee, Jim, who’s he supposed to remind you of, Ice-T?) … it’s not just in looks, it’s movement and expression. Both father and junior have this unmistakable “I’m disgusted” sneer that accounts for roughly 70-80% of what one might consider “acting” from these two. Ok, that’s not fair. But seriously, I wonder how often: “Dude, you’ve got your father’s sneer” comes up at family picnics.

I love that Gerard Butler produced this film. Den has a real Heat-type of feel to it with a cat-and-mouse between cop and criminal. [DeNiro/Pacino … Butler/other Schreiber, what’s the dif, right?]  I’m sure Butler recognized this and invested in being the cat, however, being Gerard Butler, he’s less cat and more barbaric possum. I’m sure that’s part of his charm. Of course, his opposite number in the criminal world, Pablo Schreiber, is less mouse than lethal vole. So yeah, if you come for cat-and-mouse, you’ll have to settle for barbaric-possum-and-lethal-vole. In other words, despite the things I didn’t like, this film has promise, but I think you really have to dig lumbering jackass Gerard Butler to enjoy the thing properly; I’m not prepared to go there at this time.

In Los Angeles streets rife with grit
Cops and robbers both chomp at the bit
Why this potential Heat
Turned win into defeat?
Mystery solved: the Butler did it

Rated R, 140 Minutes
Director: Christian Gudegast
Writer: Christian Gudegast
Genre: That thin blue line between clever and stupid
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Gerard Butler
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: Procedural cops

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