The 400-Word Review: Den of Thieves
By Sean Collier
January 23, 2018
The spirit of gaslight crime fiction runs through Den of Thieves, the enjoyable — if badly overstuffed — actioner from screenwriter-turned-director Christian Gudegast. With little alteration, the story told here could be recast as an almost Victorian tussle between clever criminals and coppers in pursuit.
Instead, it’s a gritty, “Grand Theft Auto” inspired orgy of gunfire. With a serviceable heist flick wrapped in the middle.
Maybe that works? Maybe it doesn’t? Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
So there are the bad guys, an elite crew of thieves (a den of them, in fact) led by Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber). He’s got a mountain of a right-hand man (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and a fresh-faced young crook at the wheel (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) If they can get themselves inside the Federal Reserve and disrupt security at the right time, they should be able to pilfer millions in bills that have already been taken out of circulation — the ultimate untraceable currency.
There are, then, the other bad guys (they say so themselves), a team of fatalistic cops led by “Big Nick” O’Brien (Gerard Butler). Much is made of the fact that this is a shoot-first unit of elite, militaristic enforcers, with the hard living (and broken lives) to match.
So there’s going to be a heist. And, it’s safe to assume, a subsequent showdown; a tense scene of foreshadowing, where O’Brien and the crooks share space at a shooting range, is either brilliant or awful. I can’t decide which.
“Den of Thieves” suffers from an unforgivable excess of movie; at a runtime of 140 minutes, a lot of desperately needed trimming did not take place. First on the chopping block would’ve been a go-nowhere subplot about O’Brien’s divorce, allegedly in place to flesh out his character; I’m usually not one for excising the human stakes, but if ever a movie called for it, this is that movie. There’s also too much Schreiber and 50 Cent (who are fine) and not enough Jackson, Jr., who follows his star turn in “Straight Outta Compton” with ample evidence that he intends to stick around in Hollywood.
And, it goes without saying, you need to have no feelings whatsoever about gun violence, tense police relations or a half-dozen other social issues to watch “Den of Thieves” from neutral ground. If that’s you and you’ve been itching for a shoot-em-up, well, have at it.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark