Blu-ray Review: Den of Thieves

A big cut above the typical bank robber/heist "crime caper" film.

By , Contributor
Underappreciated star Gerard Butler delivers a scintillating lead role in Den of Thieves, the cops-n-robbers thriller directed by Christian Gudegast. It isn't said enough: Butler is the heir apparent to old-school '80s- and '90s-era action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Kurt Russell. Not to suggest those guys are out of juice just yet (Willis was great in this year's generally overlooked Death Wish remake), but they aren't young men anymore. Neither is Butler, but in his late-40s he carries the grizzled, authentically lived-in feel those tough guys once embodied.

Writer-director Gudegast makes an impressive directorial debut with Thieves, having previously penned A Man Apart (2003) and London Has Fallen (2016; also starring Butler). Yes, he cribs from just about every bank robber-themed movie you can think of, but he mixes it all together for results that feel fresh and exciting. Mostly exciting, that is, because at two hours and 20 minutes—two and a HALF hours if you choose the Blu-ray's "unrated cut," like I did—there was plenty of opportunity for trimming and tightening. But overall, this is a solid entry in the ever-enduring heist genre that's bolstered by a funny/scary turn by Butler as "Big Nick" O'Brien—an L.A. detective in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

On the surface, bank-robbing mastermind Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi) is his primary problem. Merrimen and his band of not-so-merry men—which includes Levi (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson), Bosco (Evan Jones), Mack (Cooper Andrews), and newcomer Donnie (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.)—plan to rob the Federal Reserve Bank in L.A. of its old, retired cash. I saw the same scheme in the recent Hurricane Heist. And these films probably weren't the first films to mine that particular idea. At any rate, Nick and his guys have their work cut out for them if they're to stop Merrimen.

But just bubbling below the surface is Nick's domestic problems. His wife Debbie (Dawn Olivieri of Showtime's House of Lies; excellent here, but underused) is divorcing him. Hey, Nick's an inveterate philanderer so Debbie has every reason to want out. But they have two daughters, and Nick deeply loves and cares for them. The family crisis is tearing him apart and the whole subplot adds an extra (and very welcome) human layer to all the guns and car chases. Some of Thieves' very best scenes have nothing to do with cops or criminals. Nick crashes a dinner party, where his wife and her new boyfriend are enjoying the company of friends, to sign divorce papers—the tension is thick and Butler effectively milks every moment of it. 

DenOfThieves_OSheaJacksonJR.jpg Ultimately, we've seen so much of this material in countless movies—Michael Mann's genius Heat is an obvious influence, plus Antoine Fuqua's Training Day and even a bit of Stallone's Cobra factor into the mix. Another domestic subplot involving Levi's family life is thrown in, probably to balance out the inner lives of the criminals, not just the cops. Unfortunately this isn't quite as fully developed as it should be, but the fact that Gudegast includes this dramatic material at all just elevates his flick above that of the typical crime formula.

Universal's new Blu-ray (which is technically beyond reproach, with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix that makes the most of every gunshot) includes a number of bonus features. For starters, the "unrated cut" is a bonus in itself, available alongside the original theatrical cut. The other main supplement is the director/producer commentary track (on the theatrical cut only) featuring Gudegast and Tucker Tooley (Gerard Butler co-produced, too bad he's not here for the commentary).

There's also an alternate ending, three very short promo featurettes (totaling only about seven minutes), and a 20-minute reel of outtake material.

Reportedly there's a sequel in the works, which is somewhat surprising because Den of Thieves wasn't a terribly big hit (wasn't really a hit at all, if we're being honest). But given the film's third-act twist (which I didn't even suspect was coming), there's plenty of potential for a continuing story.


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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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