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BGN Film Review: ‘Den of Thieves’

BGN Film Review: ‘Den of Thieves’

Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves has one big problem. Well, it has more than one, but they all spring from the big one, which is Heat. That’s right, the Pacino/De Niro classic is Den’s big problem. Any cop drama/heist is going to draw comparisons and likely suffer from them and, unfortunately, Den’s plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the earlier film. Like Pacino and De Niro, Den’s leads Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber play cop and robber who are more alike than not, but possess a grudging respect for one another. Like Pacino’s cop, Butler is having domestic problems and, like De Niro’s thief, Schrieber’s character is after one last big heist.

As a result of the inevitable comparisons, it’s hard not to feel a kind of sympathy for the cast. They do what they can with the material, certainly, but the material is part of the problem. The script is a refugee from decades past, but writer and first-time director Christian Gudegast appears married to this fairly dated Miami Vice-y story-telling style. If some of the more outdated tropes had been jettisoned it might have resulted in a more enjoyable ride because, face it, everybody likes a good heist film.

Still, it isn’t all bad news. Many of the performances are actually good and, in one case, very good. O’Shae Jackson, Jr. steals the spotlight from Butler and Schreiber not only because of the underdog nature of his character, but in how he convingly provides an air of authenticity. He doesn’t appear to be acting, unlike Butler, who chews the scenery like it’s his favorite flavor of beef jerky.

The other all-too-brief moment of acting sunlight is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who switches handily from menacing criminal to almost-cuddly dad. Again, he comes off as natural onscreen and his comic timing is impeccable. Despite its clichéd nature, the “daughter’s prom date” scene is hilarious, but he also pulls off more dramatic moments as well. It’s too bad that the film decides to focus more its darker and heavier themes, refusing to give us more humor (and more Jackson).

The other performances are fine, but Butler’s was simply too heavy-handed, and Schreiber’s almost too nuanced, resulting in a weird imbalance when the two are on the screen together. Like a duet between an opera singer and a popstar, there’s just very little middle ground. There is one moment in the film when the two are staring at each other in silence for what seems like forever; I was certain that there was something being communicated, but there were so many possibilities it’s hard to tell what it was.

There are other things about the film that are really not bad at all. The heist part of the story is actually very interesting. Not particularly original, but fun to watch, and it would have made a better movie all by itself. Also, cinematographer Terry Stacey (P. S. I Love You, 50/50) is great, and you can almost get lost in the wonderful pictures he creates. That, combined with a tension-inducing score composed by Cliff Martinez (Drive, Traffic) gives the impression that the film is better than it is.

There are probably lots of people who will see the film and enjoy it, because it has all the elements of a good crime drama. It’s doubtful that anyone will be watching this film expecting it to reappear during awards season. They will be looking for escapism in the form of shootouts, car chases, and at least one strip club scene, and they won’t be disappointed. I get that. I’m that way about romantic comedies and most sci-fi films. Sometimes a movie doesn’t have to be terribly good, because it’s just the film equivalent of comfort food which, face it, isn’t usually good for you, but you don’t care. You’ve got your pint of Swiss Vanilla Almond and you’re going to enjoy it.

Bottom line: For what Den of Thieves is, it isn’t bad, but it just isn’t that good. If you’re looking for a diversion, you like more gun-play than word-play, and you appreciate exotic dancers more than exotic locales in your movies, then Heat, er, Den of Thieves may be just what you’re looking for. Just don’t go into it expecting originality.

Written by DaVette See

DaVette See lives in Inglewood, CA with her husband, Rob, her mother, and her seven (yikes) kitties. She has a BA in English and Theater and a Law degree. When not writing, reporting, and video editing for BGN, she operates Running Lady Studios and produces animated shorts. She was a geek before geek was chic. She loves books, plays, movies, and more than anything, she loves telling stories.

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