The first thing I’m going to address about this movie is a conceptual flaw that plagues the entire film. Writer/director Christian Gudegast has been trying to get Den of Thieves made for almost fifteen years, and finally gets his chance here at the start of 2018. This flaw may not have been such a blatant issue in 2003, but the problem is that the world has changed a bit since then. The protagonist of Den of Thieves is a police officer named “Big Nick,” who is notorious for being particularly tough. To give an example, there’s a moment in the movie where Big Nick proudly tells someone he didn’t bring his handcuffs, implying he is just going to kill the bank robbers instead of arresting them. Here at the start of 2018, the United States is a country which has a notorious problem with police brutality. Throughout the film, Big Nick’s harsh (and murderous) treatment of suspected criminals is shown as the only effective way of bringing “justice” to these criminals. Albeit fictional, Den of Thieves and Big Nick is essentially praising police’s unlawful brutality toward suspected criminals. I’m not sure who thought that was a good idea.
Den of Thieves tells a complicated story about a group of skilled bank robbers and the team of cops-without-limits who are hunting them. Big Nick Flanagan is the leader of the Major Crimes Unit, and is a rough and tough cop who is happy to shoot first and ask question later. The film begins when the bank robbers, led by an ex-marine named Merriman, steal an empty armored truck. Their driver is a bartender named Donnie, who is working with the close-knit team of robbers for the first time. Merriman and his team set their sights on the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles and make their plans to steal the untraceable money in the “only bank that’s never been robbed.” As Big Nick deals with his wife leaving with their children, he and his team get closer and closer to catching Merriman.
If anyone likes Den of Thieves, the one and only reason is its story. The film features a fantastic and fairly unpredictable twist at the end that is sure to excite anyone who makes it to the end of the movie with any motivation to pay attention. Writer/director Christian Gudegast and his cowriter Paul Scheuring do a good job of sprinkling hints at the twist throughout the film so that no one sees it coming, but we were all clued in enough to make the more arrogant audience members claim otherwise. The problem, though, is that after the two hours and ten minutes of mediocre film that came before the twist, it’s very hard to care about the twist at all.
While half the plot is the only potentially redeemable element of the movie, the other half is the first thing that makes it really difficult to get through. When the movie finishes, you realize that Gudegast was only ever focused on his cop-and-con-man storyline, as that’s the only thing that’s given a conclusion at the end of the movie. What you can’t help but wonder, then, is why we spent so much time following Big Nick around with his personal life. Probably at least twenty minutes of the film is dedicated to a subplot following Big Nick and his crumbling family – we even get a scene where Gerard Butler cries. But with no conclusion, no changes in character, nor anything to tie it in with the rest of the movie, this entire subplot turns into a complete waste of time.
Unfortunately, these tangents are present throughout the movie. 50 Cent’s character is given one fairly comical scene that proves to be entirely irrelevant. Big Nick makes several confusingly sexual comments toward O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s character that prove to be only weird and creepy and out of place. Even some elements of the twist at the end, which I won’t spoil here, are left entirely open ended. This screenplay needed to go through several rewrites before it was produced. You’d think fifteen years would have been enough time. The result is that with all these wild goose chases, Den of Thieves feels even longer than its 140-minute runtime.
Plot wasn’t the only thing that made Den of Thieves feel exhaustingly long. The several shootout scenes in the film go on for five or ten minutes more than you expect. In making them longer, though, there isn’t more plot or purpose introduced within the context of the shootout. We’re literally just watching them fire their automatic weapons and miss for minutes longer than our attention spans can handle. There are several things that make Den of Thieves terrible, but these pointlessly long shootouts are maybe the most excruciating.
Den of Thieves is a pretty exhausting movie to watch. The plot is busy enough where you never quite reach the point of wanting to leave the theater, but it certainly walks the line. Between the pointless subplots, painfully long shootouts, and embarrassing political connotations, Den of Thieves is one of the more regrettable movies I’ve watched in a while.
I give Den of Thieves a 4.0/10.