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Film Review: Den of thieves

Monday 5 February 2018

Peter Malone MSC, Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

DEN OF THIEVES, 2018. Starring Gerard Butler, Jordan Bridges, Pablo Schreiber, Evan Jones, O'Shea Jackson Jr, .50 Cent Jackson, Eric Braeden. Directed by Christian Gudegast. 140 minutes. Rated MA (strong violence and coarse language).

While ‘den of thieves’ is a scriptural phrase and Jesus is the one to clear the 'thieves' out of the temple, it is a bit of a stretch to see the special squad of the LA sheriff’s department, scruffy, tough, burly and brutal, as the equivalent of Jesus!

We are informed at the opening that LA is the bank robbery capital of the world, a robbery happening every 48 minutes. Whether they are like the robberies in this film is another matter.



 For two hours twenty minutes, the audience is immersed in the world of the robbers as well as the world of the special squad. And, in its way, it is very interesting. However, with the proliferation of guns, the seemingly indiscriminate firing of the machine guns during robberies, it is not quite an advertisement for anyone to go to live in LA. (A reviewer remarked: the National Rifle Association’s film of the year!)

The film opens with a robbery just before dawn, a security truck stolen by a group of masked men outside a doughnut shop. The police arrive as do the FBI and shots are fired, a policeman killed. And there are clashes between the tough leader of the squad, Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) and the neatly-suited vegan leader of the FBI.

As the film progresses, we get to know the squad, Nick, a big tough man (though there are some domestic scenes where he is shown not to be able to handle his family situation well at all even in being shown weeping as he sat in his car), the various loyal members of the group and their methods.

And, as the film progresses, we get to know the thieves, highly organised and their den, an old warehouse, the group with expertise in mechanics, communications and Internet, surveillance techniques. They are led by Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), a former footballer and military man. His group have quite a diverse ethnic representation, African-American, Hispanic, Anglo, Hawaiian.

Nick makes a connection with their getaway driver, Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, who more than resembles his father, Ice Cube, whom he played in Straight Outta Compton). Donnie defends himself and is seen as an ace risk-taking driver. Nick also accosts Donnie when he is out at a restaurant with the whole group, Nick identifying Merriman as the past footballer.

Which leads up to the plan for the den of thieves to rob the Federal Reserve. How they plan to do it is part of the interest and entertainment of this film. In preparation, there is a robbery at a local bank and the taking of hostages, once again Nick and his squad arriving as well as the FBI who want to take over and have a negotiator which the thieves have explicitly forbidden.

But, this is a decoy and it is Nick who discovers what is really happening. And, the scenes of the Federal Reserve, are shown in some detail. It is all rather smart, especially the way that Donnie is employed on the staff of the Reserve diner, enabling him, however, to participate in the robbery.

Enthusiasts of this genre have all referred to the Robert De Niro-Al Pacino thriller by Michael Mann, Heat. However, most of the audience will not quite remember the detail of Heat and take this film on its own merits, written and directed by Christian Gudegast (son of Eric Braeden who has a guest appearance. For some years this reviewer has been advocating Gerard Butler full-screen versions of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher – Tom Cruise did all right, but Butler looks and sounds the real thing!)

And, most of the audience will surely not have guessed the final twist - something to look forward to.

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
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