Den of Thieves is a good example of a filmmaker taking inspiration visually and with the entire setting and mood and pitting of two sides – it’s Heat, alright, it’s damn Heat – and it actually being a strong effort. Christian Gudegast, who co-wrote and directed this 140 minute tribute to mandom in its bullet-flying, hard-drinking, muscle-bound weight-lifting tattooed uber-machismo, makes his debut as director here, and while it can never really live up to what Michael Mann did with his piece of “Guy” cinema, it also doesn’t come with its high expectations and overly grandiose sense of epic pretention (and I don’t mean that as a put down exactly for Heat, but… it is a movie very full of its importance, anticipated actor team-up besides). Den of Thieves cares about what it’s trying to do, and that can go a long way for me in a world where a lot of filmmakers just come in and are lazy AF.
It’s the over-long (by at least ten minutes) take on Los Angeles grit and it hearkens to a tradition of heist movies with tough criminals and tough cops. Melville of course this ain’t, but I might hope that some plucky 17 or 18 year old growing in love with movies finds this in a near-empty February cineplex (or, in a few months, on any video platform) and may be inspired to seek out more. It’s Gerard Butler vs Pablo Schrieber (with O’Shea Jackson Jr fully in the mix as the driver for the latter’s crew, fully making a mark for himself not just as Ice Cube Jr, though the resemblance certainly helps at least at first), and it’s unapologetic about its characters. This isn’t to say that the movie necessarily *endorses* how they behave, at least I’d hope not. I do think the filmmaker does find this tough and exciting and hopes we will too. Does he indulge a bit much? Well, let’s say that 50 Cent confronting his daughter’s prom date is so ‘on the cutting room floor’ ready it’s puzzling why it’s here past a probably final cut (or maybe no one really cared as it’s an under-the-radar middle-budget January release)