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A 140-minute-long movie in which 50 Cent plays a lead role: surely there is no way this could be watchable I told myself as I walked into Den of Thieves. Two and a half hours later, I emerged pleasantly surprised and with a renewed belief that anything is possible.
A particularly schlubby Gerard Butler (so schlubby that in his introductory scene he eats a dead man’s doughnut) stars as self-confessed asshole cop Nick O’Brien. For years he has been trying to bust a team of ex-soldiers, now robbers – led by Ray Merrimen (OITNB and American Gods’ Pablo Schreiber). When Ray’s latest heist leaves four dead, O’Brien attempts to turn the screws on the gang. His method of doing this; scaring Ray’s inexperienced driver Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) into informing on the group. Meanwhile, 50 Cent broods as Ray’s right-hand man.
Den of Thieves is derivative, ripping off story and scenes from films like Thief, Heat, Sicario, Fast & Furious and Bad Boys 2. That said, it’s put together by first-time director Christian Gudegast (scriptwriter for London Has Fallen) with B-movie filmmaking skill and efficiency. The script by Gudegast and Prison Break creator Paul Scheuring – as well as containing some nice cineliterate references (Casablanca, Bad Lieutenant) – has touches of ingenuity among all its rehashing. Merrimen’s scheme to rob $30 million in old bills before they are set to be shredded by the Federal Reserve is a pretty novel idea, set up and executed within the film with panache.
The testosterone fuelled world of Den of Thieves – filled with bearded, muscular, sweaty tattoo men – feels gritty and somewhat authentic. Bringing to mind David Ayer at his best, Gudegast and Scheuring really mine the brooding machismo for all its worth. Every scene with Gerard Butler’s prick cop will make you laugh, sometimes unintentionally but mostly not. Also worth noting is an entirely wordless scene between O’Brien and Merrimen at a gun range. Blasting their guns in a contest to see who is more powerful, the battle to be the dominant male borders on homoerotic.
The ending feels a little confused in terms of tone. While the rest of the movie feels somewhat realistic – perhaps summed up as a low-rent combo of Heat and End of Watch – the final moments feel more fantastical, featuring a twist that would work in an Ocean’s film, not a gritty cop thriller.
The synth score by Clint Mansell is great, further adding to the Michael Mann-esque vibe. Schreiber, despite his character being under-written, is solid while O’Shea, following a fantastic turn in Ingrid Goes West, continues to exude charisma. Meanwhile, 50 Cent does very little. A ringing endorsement.