Movie Review: "Den Of Thieves"


I like heist movies, and the more complicated the crime, the better. The heist at the center of "Den Of Thieves" certainly qualifies, but it gets bogged down in too much plot nonsense.

The hero is Nick Flanagan, played by Gerard Butler, head of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department major crimes squad. Calling him the hero doesn't mean he's all good. Nick and his fellow elite cops aren't above kidnapping and torturing to get the information they need.

Pablo Schreiber plays the villain, simply known as Merrimen, an ex-Marine and ex-con who has put together his own elite team, including Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, and a driver played by O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube's son, who played his father in "Straight Outta Compton" last year). You probably won't recognize anyone else in the cast, but if you look closely, you might spot a very small part for Eric Braeden, who has been on the soap opera "The Young and the Restless" for 38 years, and also starred in one of my guilty pleasures, the 1970 sci-fi thriller, "Colossus: The Forbin Project."

I won't give away any details of the heist in "Den Of Thieves" except to say it involves the LA branch of the Federal Reserve, the only bank in that city that's never been robbed. The intricacies of the plan are fascinating and captured on screen very well by first-time director Christian Gudegast, who also wrote the movie, as well as "London Has Fallen," which also starred Butler.

I enjoy when movies like this keep part of the plan secret from us and then catch us by surprise with something we didn't know until the very end (e.g. "Ocean's Eleven"). "Den Of Thieves" pulls that off pretty well, as well as the gun battles that bookend the movie, beginning in the very first scene where Merrimen and his crew hijack an armored truck outside a donut shop.

Unfortunately, as with Aaron Sorkin directing his own script for "Molly's Game," there was no one around to cut out extraneous parts of the plot. Thus, "Den Of Thieves" becomes yet another movie bloated to two hours and twenty minutes by irrelevant subplots. One involves Nick's troubles with his wife and daughters, another shows us 50 Cent at home scaring the crap out of the boy who's taking his daughter to the prom. Both subplots have nothing to do with the main story line and should have been left out.

Similarly, there are a couple of scenes where Nick and Merrimen meet face-to-face for verbal showdowns that reminded me of Pacino and DeNiro going heads-up in Michael Mann's "Heat." In "Den Of Thieves," one of those confrontations takes places in a Japanese restaurant where Nick gives away the identity of his informant, a plot reveal that's even more unnecessary than the entire scene in the first place. Gudegast also uses some titles early on to tell us the names of some characters and the places around LA where the movie takes place, but they're in the same font and used so randomly that at times I couldn't tell which was which.

There's a good movie somewhere inside "Den Of Thieves," but it got lost in a sea of bilge. I give it a 5 out of 10.

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