Den of Thieves is written and directed by Christian Gudegast, a filmmaker who somehow manages to borrow from every heist, police, shootout movie in the history of the genre, and makes a very hollow collage of an action movie.
It’s hard to believe that Gudegast would have come this far in Hollywood without doing a little research; he has six writing credits to his name with Den of Thieves being his directorial debut. But the writer side of Gudegast missed on so many storytelling levels, trying to build character in patchwork scenes. And Gudegast somehow got Gerard Butler to do his best Mel Gibson impression for the film; this made the police brutality scenes… interesting… to watch.
Butler’s character, Nick Flanagan, leads a team of rugged, cruel sheriffs in charge of solving a robbery/homicide involving an armored car. Kinda like Heat… Anyway, Flanagan enters the film grimacing and scowling and looking to fight the world. It sounds like good, fun genre pulp; but Flanagan, a philanderer who also abuses prisoners, steals the fun from the story. He’s the only one on the team given any backstory or motivation, but it’s not particularly interesting or commendable.
Pablo Schreiber of The Wire fame has potential as the central villain, Merrimen, but his story is paper thin with only a glimpse of what could have been, especially in an epic scene at the gun range. Merrimen’s motivation also somehow changes three times throughout the film, which doesn’t help. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s character, Levi Enson, may have been given at least a few things to do, but even those moments felt extraneous and fleeting.
Not that you need to be an expert on police procedure if you want to write a script, but if you’re turning the script into a feature-length film, shouldn’t you at the very least hire a consultant to look things over? I ask this question before discussing the final shootout, a moment the film has been building towards, is just plain awful. The Sheriffs initiate the gun battle in a gridlocked construction zone in Los Angles, endangering hundreds of lives. Then, the thieves (who may or may not have a den) motives quickly change from fleeing with the money to killing cops. It’s as if Gudegast had a great concept for the gunfight but only planned out the first part; everything after that one cool setup was thrown together hastily.
If Gudegast was making a statement on police brutality, I would understand a few scenes in Den of Thieves. Since that is not the case, the film comes off as callous, uninformed, and ill-timed. The plot threads directly pulled from Heat, Lethal Weapon, and The Usual Suspects also make it seem like Gudegast forgot to do his class project until the night before. Den of Thieves is the case where the homage is more like plagiarism.
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