Den of Thieves

 

starstarstarstar

 



Gerard Butler's new heist thriller is a lean epic that transcends the cops 'n' robbers genre.

 

Den of Thieves

Guns 'n' poses: Maurice Compte, Gerard Butler and Mo McRae 

 

The title really doesn’t do it justice. Nor does the cops ‘n’ robbers genre in which it sits. Sure, there are thieves and there are the police who track them. But these are uncompromising, ingenious lawbreakers and the cops are not that stupid, either. It’s a battle of brain and brawn. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad. There’s certainly a surplus of muscle, attitude and tattoos on both sides.

 

At almost two-and-a-half hours, Den of Thieves is a lean epic. The dialogue is economic but authentic. There’s no redundant exposition for the sake of the viewing public. We have to keep up. And the moments of seemingly banal calm prove a welcome counterpoint to the inevitable outbursts of violence. Inevitably, comparisons will be made to Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), the granddaddy of heist thrillers. Here, too, are ear-shattering shoot-outs on the streets, a battle of wills between the renegade cop and the criminal mastermind and, of course, the heist itself. But the world has moved on since 1995 and the technology of the banks, the law enforcers and the bank robbers themselves has moved to a whole new level. These heistmasters are not only uncommonly tech-savvy, but they are experts on the art of misdirection.

 

As played by Gerard Butler, Detective Nick O'Brien is a bundle of contradictions. He discharges testosterone and, at times, is a frightening presence – and not just to the crooks in his custody. At first he comes off as your token B-movie stereotype, but as the film continues and its narrative layers develop, we find that beneath the swagger there is a more sensitive and vulnerable side to ‘Big Nick’. It is to the film’s credit that we are even allowed to see the Big Boy cry. As his nemesis Ray Merrimen, the Canadian stage actor Pablo Schreiber (half-brother of Liev Schreiber) is a key attribute. Again, he initially appears to be a one-dimensional killer when, over time, a more complex, phlegmatic figure emerges. And there’s a terrific scene when Big Nick and Merrimen overlap at an indoor shooting range, recalling the now-legendary meeting between Pacino and De Niro in Heat. Here, it’s more of a pissing contest as the two adversaries show-off their artillery skills in the relative sanctuary of a public space.

 

Den of Thieves is the brainchild of the scenarist Christian Gudegast, who makes his directorial debut here, co-producing with Gerard Butler. Gudegast previously co-scripted London Has Fallen (2016), a skilful and entertaining if preposterous action-thriller (starring Butler) which was given short shrift by the critics. However, the public response was more favourable (CinemaScore accorded the film an average grade of ‘A–`) and went on to make a mint. His new film is an even more satisfying ride and held this critic, at least, in a commanding grip for its entire 140 minutes.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O'Shea Jackson Jr, Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, Evan Jones, Maurice Compte, Mo McRae, Brian Van Holt, Dawn Olivieri, Meadow Williams, Eric Braeden.

 

Dir Christian Gudegast, Pro Gerard Butler, Mark Canton, Christian Gudegast, Ryan Kavanaugh and Tucker Tooley, Ex Pro Meadow Williams, Screenplay Christian Gudegast, Ph Terry Stacey, Pro Des Kara Lindstrom, Ed Joel Cox, Music Cliff Martinez, Costumes Terry Anderson.

 

Diamond Film Productions/Tooley Productions/G-BASE-STX International.

140 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 2 February 2018. Cert. 15.