‘Den of Thieves’ Starts and Ends Great; It’s the 120 Minutes In Between that Are Rough

Den_of_Thieves_posterJust like “12 Strong” this is a better film than January deserves but can’t seem to get out of its own way.

“Den of Thieves” follows a group of bank robbers who plan to rob the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles, and the elite squad of Sherriff Officers who set out to stop them.  The film stars Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, 50 Cent, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and is written and directed by Christian Gudegast.

Plenty of films try to be “Heat” but for my money only “The Town” has come close in recent years to being a heist film of equal quality. “Den of Thieves” clearly takes inspiration for those two films, among others, and its high points are very entertaining; however in between is a lot of pointless filler en route to a bloated 140 minute runtime.

The cast here is all solid, although they’ve done better work. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (aka Ice Cube’s son), who was great in “Straight Outta Compton” and charismatic as hell in “Ingrid Goes West,” tries his best here and has flashes of leading man ability but can’t help but feel wasted. Gerard Butler, who was very John McClane-like in the “Olympus Has Fallen” series, also does alright here but is a cookie-cutter “bad cop.”

The film opens up with an armored truck robbery and shootout in a rain-soaked and neon-lit parking lot at night and I thought that it would set the stage for what the entire film would give us. However after that sequence the film settles into a lot of talking and not-so-much heisting, and I just wanted guns to start going off again.

There is nothing in this film’s plot that couldn’t have been trimmed down and fixed by a talented and experienced screenwriter but Gudegast only has three films under his belt. Once that first shootout gets wrapped up, we get sideplots involving Butler’s estranged family and a random scene where 50 Cent intimidates his daughter’s date. Clearly these were meant to act as characterization moments but they just add to a runtime that never justifies itself.

Like in “The Town” or even “Grand Theft Auto” sometimes the planning and casing of a mission can be just as interesting and thrilling as the actual heist, but there is very little of that in this film. The crew just gets the layout of the Federal Reserve and when questioned how they got the plans the response is “the intel is solid, don’t worry about it.”

The film is set in Los Angeles and uses some stock footage of the city from a bird’s eye but besides that scenes clearly do not take place in California, which makes sense seeing as the film was shot in Atlanta in January 2017. There is almost traffic on the streets and in place of palm trees we get deciduous trees in the background; it just takes you out of the moment, or at least did for me and my dad.

“Den of Thieves” has two great shootout sequences and a few moments of interesting heisting, but they’re the bread of a very long sandwich. In between is a lot of cliché moments and useless scenes, and by the climax I really began to feel the runtime and in the end it makes things not worth the journey as a whole. It’s a shame because I like me a heist flick and there are a few energetic flashes of a good movie trapped in here, but you’re better off just YouTube’ing the moments that do work and watching “The Town” or “Heat” to get your motion picture fix.

Critic’s Grade: C


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