Don’t spend the money to see ‘Den of Thieves’

Ty Davis

“Den of Thieves:” the perfect example of a movie that should by all rights be much better than it actually is, if the trailers were to be believed. It’s an OK mid-tier cast, outside of Gerard Butler, an always interesting setting, interesting characters and a spectacular premise that should intrigue even the most skeptical audiences. Sadly, the end result is a just OK movie that neither fails or succeeds.

“Den of Thieves” follows a group of ex-marines turned professional criminals through their plan to rob the Federal Reserve Bank of Los Angeles, with the main players consisting of Pablo Schreiber as group leader Ray Merrimen, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as new guy Donnie Wilson, 50 Cent as Enson Levoux, and Evan Jones as Bosco. While Gerard Butler’s Nick O’Brien is the freewheeling head of the LA county’s major crimes division tasked with investigating Merriman’s gang after they steal an armored truck. What follows is a series of power plays between Merrimen and O’Brien, as each one seeks to prove their superiority to the other, while Wilson is caught between the two after being illegally forced to cooperate by O’brien.


“Den of Thieves” marks the directorial debut of Christian Gudegast, whose previous best-known work includes “London Has Fallen,” of which he penned the screenplay for. Being the first film Gudegast has directed, it makes perfect sense that he as both director and writer would focus story more towards his strengths. For example, most of Gudegast’s previous screenplays feature independent, manly men on a mission. Unfortunately, where the film demonstrates his natural abilities, it also reveals glaring weaknesses.

The power dynamic between Merrimen and O’Brien makes for an interesting watch. The film focuses mainly on the procedure of how exactly Merrimen and his group plan to pull off the big heist while managing to skirt and out think O’Brien, and this is where Gudegast really shines. The director undoubtedly has an eye for detail, culminating in an interesting set up and explanations that, instead of boring you with minute details, actually intrigue you and makes you want to see the plan will actually work. Luckily, Gudegast is smart enough to not reveal the exact plan until it happens, keeping us the audience in complete suspense the whole time. For all the films flaws, you cannot say it is not a great procedural. All in all the two hour and 20 minute run time will seem like it flies by, you will not be able to notice how much time has passed because you become so enraptured in what is happening on screen you honestly forget.

An over attention to technicalities is the film’s Achilles heel. So much attention is to how the characters conduct their business the film forgets to focus on the characters all together. The characters do have distinct personalities and are certainly expressive, but they lack dimensionality. The audience never gets to peak into the characters’ lives to understand their motivations, their outlooks, beliefs, or anything that would add real depth. Instead, what we see are expressive machines going about as the plot demands them to.

Butler’s O’Brien is the only characters whose personal life is put under the microscope, but these moments are hardly a reward and do more to distance the audience from him rather than make him more likable. The film tries desperately hard to make O’Brien the old-fashioned, devil-may-care, plays-by-his-own-rules emotional center of the move, but never comes off as more than down right insufferable and annoying. O’Brien is a machismo fueled, arrogant, narcissist the film wants us to sympathize with, when he is the exact reason that causes the major turmoil’s in his personal life through his own vices and makes no effort to change his ways. If the film has point to make, even inadvertently, it is definitely “hey, you think you can balance being a loose, free-wheeling, party hard, manly man with being a wholesome family man? Guess what buddy, you are dead wrong!”

The directing stands out not for the techniques it uses but because of how plain it is. There are no real issues with the direction, but there is not anything to really write home about. The shooting is simple, clean, straight forward, simply put, it gets the job done so in that sense I really cannot complain about anything.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. pulls off a notable performance, proving “Straight Outta Compton,” in which O’Shea plays Ice Cube, was not a mere fluke. Mark my words, while he has yet to pull a truly spectacular performance, given time and a few more movies to hone his skills, I could see him becoming an actor of serious note.

Should you see it? No 

All in all, there really is no reason to go out and see the movie, but if you happen to see out on TV – TNT and Spike seem the most likely to pick it up- then it makes for a good watch.

Screening at: Cinemark Movie and Bistro XD 

Ty Davis Can be reached at or on Twitter @tydavisACW