A movie day in January can be a risky endeavor. You may get a chance to catch a classy Oscar contender if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing, or you may be stuck with a filler flick, often either a kiddie special or a low budget shoot ’em up. We sort of specialize in the latter, and some of them turn out to be rather good. Den of Thieves does not (with two small exceptions, see below). The moviegoing companion read a review which described it as “one of the several two and a half star” films the reviewer was writing about, and I feel the about same.
The rest is under a cut for no particular reason.
Den of Thieves is a caper movie pitting a surly, profane, heavily armed, all male and ethnically mixed crew of bank robbers against a surly, profane, heavily armed, all male, and ethically mixed crew of cops. The characters in the two groups are more or less interchangeable, with paper motivations laid on top of personalities based primarily on the stereotypes associated with toxic masculinity. The leader of the robbers, played by Pablo Schreiber, is twice the human being as the leader of the cops, played by Gerard Butler, but considering the material the difference is not great. (Note that a certain percentage of the audience can amuse themselves during some of the plot by admiring Mr. Schreiber’s elegant profile and fine shoulders– it certainly worked for me.)
The plot is a standard heist plot, moderately interesting right up to the “first ending”. There are gunfights and fistfights, interrogations, threatened torture and moments of angst, and lots of elaborate planning. The setting of a Federal Reserve Bank is reasonably well developed, with lots of interesting detail about its work routines and security practices. (I have no idea if it is realistic, but it’s well developed.) The opening sequence and closing firefight are both appropriately bloody and noisy, with some cool weapons getting a lot of screen time. There is one bank robbery within a bank robbery that is sort of clever.
But in general, Den of Thieves feels old– like it has been in development for a long time, not long enough to feel nostalgic, just long enough to feel out of date. The world has moved past this movie, at least, I hope it has. In just one example, the glaring absence of female characters in this story just doesn’t hack it today. You have the bitchy wife, the stripper/girlfriend, and two daughters, one an adorable little child, one a teenager who exists so her father can protect her virginity (and her mother to point out how wonderful he is for doing it). That’s it. The most realistic women in this movie are the two office workers who order Chinese food at lunch time– and they have more lines than the other women combined.
So what are the two small exceptions to the general crumminess of Den of Thieves? One is the performance of O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Donnie, one of the robber crew. I’ve never seen this skillful young actor before– he’s very charismatic and the camera loves him. He plays “smart” well, which can be hard to do. Watch him carefully. The other exception is the “second ending” which has a pleasant little twist– one that isn’t telegraphed, but is fairly set up once you look back at it. You end up leaving this movie feeling better about it than you really should.