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Movie Night – ‘Den of Thieves’ offers action, but fails as heist movie

By Bradley Griffith

It’s been a while since we have seen Gerard Butler on the big screen. He made his return earlier this year in “Den of Thieves,” a film about thieves who are bad guys and cops who are also bad guys. As Gerard’s detective says to one of the criminals in the movie, “You’re not the bad guys, we are.” The movie is now available for home rental.

As the movie opens in the early morning hours in Los Angeles an armored car is making a stop at a donut shop for breakfast when a group of armed robbers attacks. Things go haywire when one of the security guards reaches for his gun. A battle ensues and escalates when LAPD officers arrive on the scene. One of the robbers is shot and killed along with several guards and police officers. The remaining thieves are able to escape with the armored truck.

Detective Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) and his squad from Major Crimes are called to the scene. Nick and his men have been keeping their eye on a local criminal recently released from prison named Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber). Nick knows that Ray and his crew are responsible for the robbery.  What Nick doesn’t understand is why Merrimen would steal an empty armored truck.

Merrimen has his sights set on something much bigger than the robbery of a single armored car.  With the help of his crew, which includes Donnie Wilson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), Enson Levoux (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), and Bosco Ostroman (Evan Jones), Merrimen wants to rob the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. 

In particular, Merrimen wants to steal $30 million dollars of old cash that is shredded at the Federal Reserve each and every day.  Merrimen believes not only that they can steal the money destined for shredding, but that no one will know that they stole $30 million everyone believes was shredded.

What can I say about “Den of Thieves?” Well, it’s supposed to be a heist movie on steroids, but turns out just being a regular crime movie. The trailers made it appear as if the movie would be action-packed, with some drama thrown in for good measure. Instead, there are some good action scenes, but they are mostly at the beginning and the end, with a lot of down time in between.

The movie starts with a bang, literally. The shootout between armored car guards and a group of thieves intent on hijacking the armored car, no matter how many people they have to kill, is a good scene to kick off the movie. I expected more scenes like this throughout the movie.  Instead, there is a lot of testosterone fueled locker-room banter, but not much action until near the end of the two-hour-and-20-minute film.

What the filmmakers tried to do is combine a macho, adrenaline filled crime movie with a smart caper movie to keep you guessing the entire time. There have been many crime movies and many slick heist movies, but it’s nearly impossible to combine the two. The problem with “Den of Thieves” is that it isn’t smart enough to be the heist movie they wanted and has too little action to be a truly great crime film. The filmmakers would have been better off picking one genre and running with it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are good parts to the movie. The gun battles at the beginning and the end were drawn up well and were very well executed. While he will most likely never win an academy award, Gerard Butler excels in this type of a role and he was perfectly cast as the not-quite-crooked cop who you despise almost as much as you despise the criminals. There’s a nice twist at the end too.

In the end, “Den of Thieves” was good. Not great and not terrible. It suffered from an identity crisis of trying to be both a macho crime movie and a smart heist movie, but could pull off neither.

Grade: B

Rated R for violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity.