A new film tells us Los Angeles is the bank robbery capital of the world. “Den of Thieves,” a new crime drama starring Gerard Butler, shows us an elaborate heist, the bad guys who steal and the even badder guys who try to stop them.
Butler is Nick Flanagan, major case squad cop and wild card. We know he’s a tough guy because he keeps telling us—“You’re not the bad guys,” he growls at a suspect, “we are.”—and because he smokes indoors. When he arrives, hungover, at a crime scene where several police officers have been shot and an armoured truck stolen, he and his team begin tracking the most sophisticated robbers in LA, the Merriman Gang. Named for its leader (Pablo Schreiber), the gang, Bas (Max Holloway), Bosco (Evan Jones), Levi Enson (50 Cent) and getaway driver Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), will stop at nothing when it comes to relieving banks of their cash. With Flanagan on their trail they plan their most audacious robbery yet, a $30 million takedown of the bank of banks, the Los Angeles Bank of the Federal Reserve.
“Den of Thieves” is more concerned with its own mythology and troubled cop clichés than the story. Butler is a walking, talking cliché, a cop with a bad marriage and even worse attitude. Over the course of a too-long 2 hour and sixteen minute running time he reaffirms his badass bone fides again and again, whether it is eating a donut from a blood spattered box at a crime scene, throwing back the booze or threatening a prisoner. “Do we look like the types who will arrest you? Put you in handcuffs and drag you to the station? No will just shoot you. Less paperwork.” He’s the “original gangsta cop,” and we’ve seen that all before and we’ve seen it better.
“Den of Thieves” attempts to get mileage from the old chestnut that good and evil—in this case Flanagan and Merriman—are mirror images of one another. It’s a classic push-and-pull but isn’t given much new life here apart from some flashy editing that visually ties the character together.
The been-there-done-that feel to “Den of Thieves” wouldn’t matter as much if director Christian Gudegast had kept the pace up. Instead he draws scenes out, pads an already overlong movie with family drama subplots that go nowhere—the only female characters are kids, wives and hookers who make brief appearances—and stages what must be one of the longest and most reckless shoot outs in cinema history. It’s one thing for the bad guys to shoot one another, but when cops place dozens of innocent people in the middle of an automatic gun battle it feels gratuitous even for a movie like this.