Like most sane movie-goers I enjoy heist films. Sure the plots can at times be a little thin and the characters a little cliche, but those cat and mouse gunfights where the bad guys try to get away with the cash while the good guys try to stop them get me every time. So, of course, I was intrigued when I saw the trailer for Den of Thieves. It ended up combining two of my favorite films of the 90’s. One I can’t tell you, due to knowing which one it would spoil it for you, but the film had clear homages to Heat all the way through.
The question is, does taking so much from that film let Den of Thieves stand in its own right? I foresee hundreds of comparisons between the two coming in the future, I’m going to try to talk mostly about the film by itself, but you’ll be able to see the similarities quite clearly.
The film opens with an armored car driving through Los Angelos, where the film tells us it is the bank robbing capital of the world. Our would-be robbers led by Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) and Levi (50 Cent) hold up the armored car, take the guards out of it when one suddenly reaches for his gun and they have to execute them all. Surprisingly, the criminals then don’t get away clean and we get our first shootout. This is when I knew as a heist/action fan that I made the right decision by seeing this in the theaters. My theater doesn’t have the best audio and isn’t that new or modern by some standards, but the sound mixing and effects were spectacular. I felt like bullets were whizzing by my head and I was in the firefight.
Afterwards, we meet our good guy crew led by Big Nick (Gerard Butler) as he surveys the aftermath. However, we learn quickly they aren’t so good and have their own way they meter out punishment. He is a flawed law enforcement official that isn’t afraid of breaking the rules to get his man. His home life suffers as he drives away his wife. In Contrast, the criminals seem to have their families figured out and are enjoying their downtime. I’m really not trying to compare to Heat, I can only write what is presented. However watching the dichotomy between Merrimen and Nick and how they schemed to take the other down, it all seems so familiar.
The problem with Den of Thieves is the execution. They tried to give some background context to the characters (both good and bad) but it wasn’t enough and turned into filler instead. They either needed to go fully into the drama and development and really show us who these people are or they should have cut it. These little snippets weren’t enough, I couldn’t even tell you the names of all the main characters because they just didn’t get that into them. So when they do give you a random little look into some of the backgrounds, it feels pointless and adds to the unnecessary runtime of the film.
As their chess match continues, it continuously feels like there is something else going on. I won’t go much more into the story because it should be a fun movie for those that like this type and I don’t want to spoil it. Butler does an admirable job as the dickish lawman. I really did hate him at times and rooted for the bad guys. Merrimen steals the show as an incredible presence. He certainly feels misused though and doesn’t get that full-on Deniro treatment, I actually wanted more of him.
The action scenes are all well done and should please most action fans. While there aren’t as many as you might expect, they all pack a punch. The film feels like it should have cost twice its 60 million dollars and gets a lot out of each scene. I just want to reiterate what I said above about the sound. If this doesn’t get an Atmos mix when it comes to home media I’ll be severely disappointed. If you are going to check this out, pick the theater that has the best audio version and even if you dislike the story you certainly won’t fall asleep when the gunfire starts.
Den of Thieves Final Thoughts 4/5
As a lover of action and heist films, I was thoroughly engaged throughout. The comparison to Heat and another film are undeniable and will be plentiful. However, I still think it’s worth a watch, especially in the best audiological theater you have access to. Grab some popcorn, recline the chair, and enjoy the spectacle.
To see what else released this week besides Den of Thieves check out our Now Playing article we do each week.