Summary: Bank heists, corrupt cops, ultra-masculinity, neck tattoos, and 50 Cent.
This movie is so weird. It doesn’t know if it wants to be an action or a suspense kind of crime movie. Its tone ends up in this really weird limbo and I can’t wrap my head around it. Not that I care all that much, but I can’t even really find the right words to describe it. It wants to be Heat, it wants to be The Town, but it ends up being more like one of those generic heist movies from the early 2000s. You know, the ones that ended up either taking itself too seriously or it was way too cheesy. Like SWAT, the one with Colin Farrell. And Brian Van Holt, who also shows up here. He is forever a cop or army dude.
Den of Thieves falls into the “takes itself too seriously” camp. I will say, the story is interesting enough: a group of ex-military men (Pablo Schrieber, 50 Cent, O’Shea Jackson Jr., etc) run amuck, robbing banks here and there, attracting the attention of some corrupt cops (Gerard Butler and Van Holt). That’s interesting to me. There are plenty of intriguing moments and story points that I liked. The actual heist and fallout is enjoyable to watch.
It’s the lead up to the heist in the first act of the movie that made me not care for the rest of it. Random title cards- some people get names, some neighborhoods get names, and a bunch don’t get any. Alongside that, way too many establishing shots- no one outside of Los Angeles is going to know or care about San Pedro vs Downtown LA. Along with that, way too many chance encounters in the giant, dense city of Los Angeles, when we could have been shown Butler is obsessed with Schrieber and tracking his movements with reconnaissance. A very disproportionate amount of time spent on establishing Butler is not a good person vs everyone else and not getting to really know the leader of the heist gang except through dumps of Cop Research and Dialogue. And it feels like this should be an ensemble piece, so… when do I get to watch the ensemble do ensemble-y things so I feel like I’m watching two groups of friends? Campfire bonding is important. Visually, there’s inconsistency and color grades are either too yellow or too blue- can’t tell if this is an effort for mEtApHoR or just a stylish decision; regardless, I hate it. And what’s with all the neck tattoos!?
I think the main fault is that the script tries to be interesting in its events without making its characters interesting. There are literally no stakes in this movie because I really don’t care what happens or feel invested in anyone’s story. Aside from Butler, the only one I get to really know is maybe 50 Cent, who has about 10 lines total. I would have liked to know more about him and Schrieber’s relationship. From what I can tell, they like to work out together and that is all. As a result, it feels like this can be cut down by maybe a half hour or even 40 minutes. There are better heist movies out there that will leave a stronger impression.