Sunday, 29 July 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Den of Thieves

Big Nick (Gerard Butler) is a big cop with a bad reputation and a love of donuts. His latest case involves a gang of violent bank robbers who have killed cops. Big Nick does not like this.

With the clocking ticking down to the robbers' next big score, Big Nick will have to go above and beyond (including having sex with the bad guy's favourite stripper) to bring these men to death. Or justice. Whatever comes first.


The only thing that would make this movie better is if it featured a scene in which Gerard Butler and Pablo Schrieber stand inches from each other, and pull down their pants to finally decide who is bigger.

The latest instalment in Gerard Butler's one-man attempt to become the 80s action star of the 2010s, Den of Thieves rvteams the burly Scot with London Has Fallen scribe Christian Gudegast. If the Mike Banning films pitch Butler as the heir to the 80s hard body action genre of Sly and Arnie, Den of Thieves is a testosterone-fueled riff on Heat.

This movie is so close to Heat in terms of its narrative specifics (the opening scene is basically the same, just set at night), and its attempt to create a dichotomy between Big Nick and Ray (Pablo Schreiber), the leader of the robbers, that it ends up feeling like a weird game of Mad Libs between a couple of bros with some brews.

But whereas the struggle between Hannah (Pacino) and McCauley (DeNiro) was between different codes, Den tries to pitch both sides as two gangs, one that has badges, and one that has 50 Cent. That idea would be interesting, but outside of Butler's performance, I'm not sure that idea filters into the movie. It comes off more as a battle between two brands of machismo: Butler as a wild man; Schrieber as a soldier' with various degrees of beta male scurrying between them. I mentioned it earlier, but there really is a sequence where Butler scopes out Schrieber's favourite stripper, and then runs into Schrieber post-hook up wearing nothing but a towel.


Ultimately it's pointless trying to draw parallels - Den of Thieves is just an action movie, in which the hero's injuries act as a purifying ritual preparing him for his final victory, while the villains' signify how close to death they are.


The real highlight of the movie are the scenes of Butler off-work, and the pinnacle is the sequence where Big Nick parades into a party his wife is attending, to make a big show of signing the divorce papers, is wonderfully silly, but there needed to be more of this.


The scenes of his home life are  just an excuse to show off how much of a macho loner Butler is. He cannot be contained by monogamy! With how virile he is, I am surprised they did not lean into the sleaze and give him multiple girlfriends and ex-wives ala Richard Gere's bent cop in Internal Affairs (1990).


The action scenes are decent - there is some confusion in terms of geography  but overall they work. The final shootout is a great idea on paper - it takes place in the middle of a traffic jam. Like all the action, it is begging for some more long takes to show off the choreography, but it is such a cool idea for a set piece that the average execution does not work against it.


Den of Thieves is probably destined to be a Netflix-boosted semi-classic. It's totally watchable, but mostly for the parts (any scene where Butler alphas another dude) that you probably would not expect (the action).

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