Director: Christian Gudegast
Writer: Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring
Cast: Gerard Butler, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, O’Shea Jackson Jr, and Pablo Schreiber
Plot: A band of outlaws plans the heist of the century, robbing the Federal Reserve. Their carefully laid plans are soon discovered by a militant group of specialists within the LA County Sheriff’s department. This dangerous squad of law enforcement agents makes it their sole mission to find and destroy the outlaws once and for all. With the law on their tail and millions at stake will the outlaws pull off their final heist or will they be engulfed by the long arm of the law.
Christian Gudegast, directs this action-packed caper. Gudegast is no stranger to the genre having penned screenplays for A Man Apart (2003) and London Has Fallen (2016). While both films enjoyed some box office success neither garnered the critical acclaim required to further Gudegast’s career. “Den of Thieves” may finally be the vehicle that pushes Gudegast to the next level. We went into this screening with very low expectations. January is notorious for presenting the absolute worst in cinema. Often called the “dump month” it is that awkward period after the holiday season and before the god-awful romantic comedies take hold. We found ourselves pleasantly surprised at this adrenaline heavy thrilling little movie. While it may not have stood up to the big summer box office or the next Marvel release it is worth breaking hibernation for.
The plot is one we’ve all seen before so there’s nothing new there. What is interesting is the subtle nuances and humor injected into what could have been just another 90-minute gun fight. The cast was well selected and their characters well thought out. We honestly didn’t know which side to root for. Gerard Butler takes the lead as the seasoned lead detective hell-bent on closing this case. He’s arrogant brash and has very little respect for authority. His marriage is crumbling, he’s an alcoholic and possibly a drug addict. He looks greasy and dirty all the time. He commands a squad of vaguely familiar faces none of which provide anything memorable. They basically serve as side dishes for Butler’s grade A asshole persona. When he’s not being rude for rudeness sake he’s delivering one-liners and making everyone around him uncomfortable. In one scene he confronts his wife’s boyfriend by demanding a hug. The smaller man obliges in a weird but comical scene that cements Big Nicky as a loveable lunatic.
The outlaws are led by Merrimen, a no-nonsense ex-soldier portrayed by Pablo Schreiber. While his name may not ring any bells you have surely seen his face before. This Canadian actor is known for his work on The Wire, Orange is the New Black, and most recently American Gods. While he may not be a household name just yet he has come a long way from his days as “Pornstache”. Schreiber has all the makings of an action hero. Den of Thieves has given him the platform for reinvention. After this film, he may just be one good role away from joining the aging league of action movie heroes.
O’Shea Jackson makes his real debut in this film as Donnie. We all know this young man as the offspring of music and movie Icon Ice Cube. Though he made his official debut in Straight Outta Compton, he was literally born to play that part. It was a two-hour impersonation of his father, how could he fail at that? Donnie is the first character he had to make his own and Cube Jr. did a great job. Though he lacks the tough exterior of his father and his English accent needs improvement, he did impart a youthful naiveté to the role that his father couldn’t have. Even in his younger days, it would have taken a lot to make Ice Cube look vulnerable and frail. Junior on other hand does a masterful job of appearing harmless, a far cry from his previous role. Donnie is the youngest and least experienced of the crew and becomes the first outlaw identified by Big Nicky. The grizzled detective forces Donnie to act as his man on the inside making Donnie the biggest pawn in the game. It isn’t until the end of the film that we get a glimpse of what is yet to come as Donnie comes into his own and proves himself as a force to be reckoned with.
The one glaring flaw in this film is the incredibly long gunfights. The scenes are just symphonies of continuous gunshots without the usual bass driven soundtrack we’ve come to expect. The scenes are also reminiscent of Call of Duty gameplay with jolting camera sweeps that offer a first-person perspective to the violence. As January releases go this is one of those rare surprise hits that is worth braving the elements for.
Den of Thieves hits theaters this Friday!