Does anyone get excited for a Gerard Butler action film anymore? Long gone are the days of 300 (2006). Now we get the middle of the road films from him like London has Fallen (2016). There is nothing about this film that makes me think this will be anything other than the middle of the road.
Especially as this film is created by Christian Gudegast: one of the many names attached to the script for, the aforementioned, London has Fallen. Not only is Gudegast the writer of both the story and the screenplay for Den of Thieves, but he is also the director and the executive producer. For a first-time director, this may be too many hats for one film.
From the beginning of the film, it works far too hard to force the viewer into a certain impression of the characters. There is the cliché running through the film that the bad guy could actually be the good guy with ‘Big Nick’ O’Brien (Gerard Butler) being a cop who bends the rules to get what he wants and Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) as clean and precise.
The problem with this is that not only is it cliched and overused in films; at no point does Merriman seem like he actually is the ‘good guy’.
O’Brien is overplayed by Butler to the point where his clumsiness tied with some of the terrible jokes and one-liners, he is forced to spout make the character jarring and unbelievable.
O’Brien is given every possible cliched trait of being a rogue police officer, be the alcoholism, constant smoking, destruction of crime scenes, his treatment of his soon to be ex-wife, his disregard for police procedure.
These are just the visible ones and that is overdone, this is not to mention the constant references to his misbehavior including swearing matches with other police officers at crime scenes to comments that he prefers to shoot criminals rather than arrest them as there is less paperwork.
O’Brien becomes a parody of the cliched bad cop to the point where the film becomes farcical in nature.
The film has an enormous main cast, both O’Brien and Merrimen’s teams have over five members but they never seem to get the opportunity to do anything. Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson plays Enson Levoux, who is in the film loads but probably only says 4 or 5 lines in the whole thing. Throughout the film, the viewer sees many faces, but each of those characters seems overlooked for more repetitive screen time for Gerard Butler.
The film is nearly an hour too long at around 140 minutes. There are so many side stories and random scenes within the movie that have no impact on the plot of the film and only serve to disjoint the story and dismay the audience.
There are random scenes including where Enson Levoux’s daughter is being picked up for prom and Levoux takes him into his garage/gym where dozens of muscle-bound men, wearing wife-beater vests stare at him. Leroux tells the date how he expects him to behave.
There is also a random scene where drunk O’Brien joins a double date in which his soon-to-be ex-wife is dating a new man. This was entirely pointless and only served to show O’Brien behaving in the same inappropriate way he has been throughout the film.
As the film is about the relationship between a police officer and bank robber, there are some comparisons to be made between the Den of Thieves and Heat (1995). Much like the cast, Heat’s combination of Pacino and De Niro far exceeds Den of Thieves’ Butler and Schreiber, so is Den of Thieves much the inferior of Heat.
In Den of Thieves, the first hour or so is a pissing contest between Merrimen and O’Brien, fuelled by very little. Instead, the clues are clumsy and obvious, the baiting is amateurish and the scene in the restaurant is clumsy and uninteresting with inevitable and predictable consequences.
The heroes of this film come in the forms of Pablo Schreiber and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Donnie Wilson). Though the dialogue is often poor and lacking finesse, both Schreiber and Jackson make the best of it. They both put in engaging and believable performances and they switch between different situations brilliantly.
Jackson’s double and even triple crossing work is brilliant and entirely convincing, and he produces the only moments of the film that aren’t entirely explained beforehand or just predictable because it’s been done in numerous previous films and stories.
Schreiber provides a level of believability about his character that is lacking from Butler’s acting. There is a comradery about Merrimen and his group that is lacking in O’Brien’s team. Schreiber appears in control at all times and you always believe he has a plan up his sleeve. He baits Butler throughout the film and though the storyline is clumsy he still manages to pull off his controlled and intelligent demeanor.
The plot is full of holes and there are a number of points when either O’Brien could have caught out Merrimen and his crew. There are also a number of moments where for no reason at all, O’Brien suddenly has a psychic brainwave and knows what Merrimen is up to and what to do about it.
Finally, the shootout at the end, though brutal and impactful, Merrimen’s shooting aptitude has already been shown earlier in the film in the gun range, so how does he manage to miss so much in the final shoot out?