After a violent shoot-out on an armoured car raid, LAPD sheriff Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler) is left with a perplexing mystery: Why would someone attack a safe-deposit van which they already knew to be empty? Tracking down the gang’s escape driver Donny (O’Shea Jackson Jr), a violent game of cat mouse begins between Nick and their leader Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber).
At its heart ‘Den of Thieves’ wants to be so much more than it is. With its suburban shoot-outs, scattering gun shells and gruff macho posturing, it is essentially a story of two testosterone bulls squaring off against each other. Gerard Butler, still riding high on the action-hero career that has been laid before him since Zak Snyder’s ‘300’, gives you what you’ve come to expect – Gerard Butler being gruff. Conversely it’s Pablo Schreiber as his nemesis Merrimen that comes across as the more thoughtful combatant. Spliced between these two, O’Shea Jackson Jr’s Donny does his best in a solid, if unremarkable role as the men’s go-between.
…jumps both the lanes of credibility and good taste.
In a film where the parallels to Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ are inescapable, ‘Den of Thieves’ starts well. Yet, half-way through it commits the mortal sin of introducing scenes that not only echo Mann’s original but also directly copies it. Without ‘Heat’s solid character building, nuanced performances and oft-quotable dialogue, ‘Den of Thieves’ jumps both the lanes of credibility and good taste, leaving you wincing – yes, you have seen this before and yes, it was better.
In the end ‘Den of Thieves’ is a film that flirts with the rich premise of cops being as bad as thieves, but meekly shys away from any of the corruption that gave both ’Rampart’ and ‘Serpico’ their edge. If you truly want to see an edgy, explosive police drama then I would recommend you not venture into this ‘Den of Thieves’. Instead seek out the film it wishes to emulate: Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ or better still the jarringly realistic and criminally under-rated ‘Hyena’ from director Gerard Johnson.