Den of Thieves – movie review

The DNA of Michael Mann’s 1995 classic Heat runs through the gritty crime drama, Den of Thieves.

Los Angeles is the bank robbery capital of the US, with one committed every 48 minutes on average. Merriman (Pablo Schreiber) leads a highly organised and efficient gang of robbers. A former special ops soldier, Merriman uses his training and skills to plan his daring heists.

His latest audacious scheme is to rob the LA Federal Reserve Bank. Every day the bank destroys millions of dollars in old bank notes. With some insider help, Merriman constructs an elaborate scheme to steal a fortune. His plan involves bypassing the high-tech security systems that monitor everything, and fooling the protocols and in-built redundancies that protect the bank . The planning and the execution of the robbery bring a frisson of tension to the film.

On his trail though is “big Nick” O’Brien (a beefed-up Gerard Butler), the head of the LA County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit. He’s a tough and uncompromising cop with a take-no-prisoners attitude. O’Brien is however prone to throwing away the rule book when it comes to pursuing crooks. His fellow squad members are a similarly dishevelled-looking bunch with a similar attitude.

These two hard units are on a collision course that will result in a running gun battle on a crowded LA freeway. There’s also a tense cat-and-mouse game between O’Brien and Merriman as the two circle around one another. Audiences may recall the similar dynamic between De Niro and Pacino in Heat.

Den of Thieves marks the directorial debut for writer Christian Gudegast (who wrote the action-thriller A Man Apart ). His direction is suitably muscular and visceral, with a couple of well-staged kinetic action sequences. Terry Stacey shoots the action tightly, while Clint Eastwood’s regular editor Joel Cox along with David Cox and Nathan Godley edit the whole thing together.

A sub-plot involving O’Brien’s estranged wife Debbie (Dawn Olivieri) could easily have been excised completely. That would have cut 20 minutes from the overly-generous 140-minute running time without detracting from the central story line.

Butler (Geostorm) is perfectly cast here, and he brings plenty of his usual surly attitude and swagger to the role. Schreiber (TV series American Gods) – a half-cousin of actor Liev Schreiber – imbues his Merriman with plenty of cunning and a menacing air. O’Shea Jackson Jr (the son of rapper Ice Cube) continues his solid work in Straight Outta Compton and the recent Ingrid Goes West with another good performance here as Donnie, a driver for Merriman’s crew. Rapper 50 Cent (Southpaw) is also a menacing presence as Levoux, Merriman’s second-in-command. The rest of the cast are largely unknown, but they bring plenty of credibility and a healthy dose of testosterone to the material.

Director: Christian Gudegast
Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr
Release Date: 1 February 2018
Rating: MA 15+

Greg King

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