Film Review: Den of Thieves

Cops and criminals who are more alike than they might want to admit face off in this elaborate heist movie that owes a significant debt to Michael Mann's 'Heat.'
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LAPD hotshot Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler) is a mess. His wife has just walked out on him with the kids, he drinks way too much and his career is one long disciplinary hearing just waiting to happen. But Flanagan gets results, so his flagrant disregard for procedure and protocol is overlooked because hey—sometimes you need a bad dude with a badge to go after a bad dude with an ambitious plan. That would be Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), who's fresh out of jail and has both an awesome military background and an elaborate scheme to steal a whole mess of money in scheduled-for-shredding bills from the Federal Reserve.

Everyone knows the drill: Under other circumstances these guys could have been best bros (hell, they shoot at the same range and eat at the same restaurants with their families), but they're on opposite sides of the law, so one is going to have to take the other down. And yes, that is a nod to L.A. Takedown (1989), Michael Mann's made-for-TV run-through for flat-out extraordinary Heat (1995).

Sometimes comparing films to their precursors is a lazy exercise in showing off, but other times—this being one of them—you just can't get around it: Den of Thieves owes so much to Heat that it might as well have been run up from the same pattern, just cut from lesser material. Which is not to say that Butler and Schreiber aren't good actors or that they're walking through their parts. They are and they're not. But they're not Robert De Niro and Al Pacino at the top of their games, and writer/first-time-director Christian Gudegast (who wrote Butler's London Is Falling) isn't Mann.

That's not to say that Den of Thieves is unwatchable—far from it. It's an efficient, well-plotted heist movie, one that pays just enough attention to the details to feel authentic (at least to those of us who have never plotted and/or executed a high-stakes, precision robbery of any kind) and spends enough time with the characters to make viewers feel emotionally invested in what happens to them. And its not a January dog; unlike many movies released right after the end-of-year crush of awards contenders, Den of Thieves is a solid genre picture with a strong cast. It's good fun.

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