January is the time studios tend to dump their most forgettable, bland rubbish into theaters which makes it all the more surprising that the crime noir “Den of Thieves” is actually a quality heist movie. You heard that right: this is a solid, enjoyable film. Before you dismiss this as another ‘loose cannon cop gone bad’ or a ‘guns blazing action flick,’ you may want to hang on to your seat because this is an intense and gripping story of a gang of very bad men who plot to rob the Federal Reserve Bank and the equally flawed good guys who try to stop them.
Gerard Butler is Big Nick O’Brien, a far from perfect LAPD cop who leads the charge to bring down the dangerous crew. Butler bullies and swaggers his way through his testosterone fueled role as a burly, rage-filled, macho cop that channels an early Mel Gibson. It’s the type of performance that reminds me why I used to actually like the actor, and don’t let anyone convince you that he’s not perfectly suited for the part. All of the supporting cast are believable and effective too, from the ex-military mastermind Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) to the quiet bartender turned reluctant police mole Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who quickly gets in way over his head.
The film borrows from (or is it ‘pays homage to?’) other cinematic heist and cop classics like “The Usual Suspects,” “Training Day,” and “End of Watch,” and is obviously heavily influenced by the works of Michael Mann. This film combines the best elements from those films into one, and somehow it works quite well. Although I wouldn’t go so far and say this is a wholly original story, it does have plenty of twists, turns, and welcome surprises, and the general air of agitation lends a gritty, abrasive energy that’s impossible not to notice.
Extremely well made with a steady, stylized craftsmanship by first-time director (and also screenwriter) Christian Gudegast, the film opens with a hair-raising shootout in front of a donut shop and revels in the small details (including planning the elaborate heist) that makes everything feel authentic. I offer very little criticism of the film overall, save for its overindulgent 2 hour and 20 minute runtime (which managed to keep me so riveted that it never felt too long).
Are there plot points that make zero sense? Yeah, there are. And there are a lot of them. But do the myriad implausabilities ruin the entire project? No way. Just go with it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good this movie really is.