Den of Thieves, Sound Plots

There is something different about Gerald Butler in Den of Thieves. He is scarier and unlikable. He is also at his best, starring in perhaps what is his most watchable film since 300. Christian Tesfaye found Den of Thieves a well composed, well-acted action movie that deserves the ticket price, awarding 7 out of 10 stars.

It is nice to be surprised once in a while. There are times when I enter a movie theatre without much expectation and come out utterly flabbergasted. I cannot say it was precisely the same feeling for Den of Thieves, for it was less than a great movie. But, having begun the film expecting commonality, I was somewhat surprised to find a flick that had a heartbeat.

Den of Thieves is a heist movie. There are lots of cops and bank robbers. In fact, it is one extended showdown between those groups, with a succinctly set up heist in the third act.

It paints a bleak world packed with characters that have scant sense of humour. At the middle of it all is Nick (Gerald Butler), a down on his luck cop with the Los Angeles sheriff’s department. His marriage is falling apart, he frequents strip-clubs (probably why his marriage is falling apart) and disregards police procedures.

In fact, the movie depicts such a dark world, the good guys can make up for a bad guy on any given romantic-comedy. Nick was never written to be liked. He just exists, making it all the more unfortunate that he is perhaps the most qualified person to catch such bad guys. He is just as morally depraved as the villains, and if the maxim that it takes one to know one holds true, then his nature is a mere occupational hazard.

Opposite to Nick and his like-minded police crew, stand Merrimen et al. The leader is Ray (Pablo Schreiber), an ex-marine and ex-con with the ambitious will to rob the Federal Reserve. With a crew that comprises sinewy men and one somewhat chubby getaway driver, Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), he attempts to steal bills worth millions of dollar that have been slated for shredding.

I liked the macho world this film depicts, which is just a cover the characters being losers. The thieves are, well, thieves, and the cops are corrupt and low paid. Both find themselves at the lower side of the moral rung. No real line separates them except the profession each one chose. Rooting for one than the other is much like being a fan of a football club. No one is nice – someone just wins.

The filmmakers probably took a page out of Michael Mann’s Heat. A film that stars screen legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, it portrayed a couple of men each of which have families, friends and are well spoken. They could have been best friends under different circumstances, had it not been for the De Niro character’s proclivity for robbing banks, or the Pacino character’s as a detective. The film ends with one clutching the dead hands of the other, as in an acknowledgement of what could have been.

The director of Den of Thieves is Christian Gudegast, who does not inspire confidence in an audience given the record of his filmography. He has penned the likes of the 2003 film A Man Apart and London Has Fallen, either of which is a film I will not wish even on the likes of Nick. Den of Thieves, though never a perfect movie, for it does not shy too much away from predictability, marks maturity. The film is much more measured and dramatic than his previous significant projects.

Butler and Gudegast have collaborated in the aforementioned London Has Fallen, and it would be unfortunate if such associations drive audiences away, which is not to say the duo do not deserve it. For Butler, Den of Thieves is a significant improvement, a film where he shows a darker side of himself rather than the unlikely goody-two-shoes (not towards henchmen though) hero of London.

He is much burlier in this film, but with a scraggly beard. He is usually drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette or eating something. What little time is left from this, he could be found cursing. Butler’s performance does not jump a beat. His performance is not just effortless; it is almost as if he is finally letting go – as if he has revealed his true self.

The other actors do not let down either. The weak link here could have been Curtis James Jackson III, a.k.a 50 Cent, given his previous bouts with acting, but he is not afforded too much screen time, neither does he disappoint in those scenes.

For today’s action genre aficionado, Den of Thieves may have less fighting and car chases than they are used to. But this is how action movies looked like in the 1970s and late 1960s with the likes The French Connection and Bullitt. The genre has been further distorted by the Fast and Furious movies that edge closer to fantasy than action. But Den of Thieves should serve as a pleasant segue into calmer, better-plotted action movies.


By Christian Tesfaye
Exclusive to Fortune

Published on Jan 27,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 925]



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