Den of Thieves, which starts as a fairly standard cops-and-robbers premise, is eventually bogged down by a convoluted plot and fundamentally unlikable characters. Our ‘robbers’ are boring and uncharismatic, strands of plot never fully materialise, and the machismo gets so tiring dialogue seemingly devolves into grunts by the end of the film.
The cops are even worse. Gerard Butler is impressively physical in his performance as the aggressive, alcoholic sheriff, but his nastiness makes it difficult to really root for him. In the hands of a more competent writer or director, a character like this could have been used to create an interesting dynamic. Instead, he’s presented as a sort of anti-hero, someone we should begrudgingly like despite his shortcomings.
The film is lightly peppered with some misguided attempts at character development. Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson’s wordless goon and around a dozen of his adult male friends celebrate intimidating Jackson’s daughter’s prom date. A garage filled with muscular, whooping men patting each other on the back over nothing much at all summed the whole film up for me – for some reason we’re meant to find this funny instead of weird and a little sad.
Women in this film are relegated to plot-points or objects; the only speaking role is for a ‘bitchy’ ex-wife, and strippers are used as pawns in this protein-fuelled game of chess. This is emblematic of a broader problem in the film – the cast is so dull for a heist movie. Gone are the colourful characters, charming rogues, mysterious puppet-masters we’d hope to encounter. Instead, we’re presented with crooks whose only real distinction is bizarre facial hair.
That’s not to say that the whole film is lifeless. A few high-stakes action scenes hint at what could have been – a shoot-out in a crowded traffic jam is probably the best set-piece of the whole film, working well within the murky grey-area of street morality that the film has established.
However, these are few and far between and lead to the ultimate issue with the film. What could have been some exciting, flashy set-pieces (especially a heist that’s teased the whole movie) ultimately becomes boring as you just didn’t care about any of the characters. There’s no one on the ‘robbers’ side who you particularly want to succeed, and actively disliking the obsessive sheriff means that there are no stakes.
Den of Thieves isn’t all dull, but the occasional redeeming firefight can’t make up for a poor cast of characters and relentless bravado that quickly begins to sap any enjoyment from the film.
Film reviewed at Cineworld, Edinburgh.
Image: STX Entertainment