DEN OF THIEVES blurs the line between good guys and bad guys
I could tell you that Den of Thieves (2018) is a modern update of a classic, intriguing piece of filmmaking, but that would be spoiling, so let’s take the long way. There are no easy protagonists in this film so mind your loyalties. Our main hashtags are #DOTREGULATORS and #DOTOUTLAWS. Since they all operate in a gray area, and your sympathies are likely to fall with an Outlaw, let’s just stick to those tags.
In this corner, the Regulators, an elite unit within LA County’s Sheriff’s Department: 6 team members strong led by tough-talking, kinda sleazy, barely law-abiding, Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler). They are tracking a very successful band of bank robbers who may be planning the biggest heist that’s never happened. Nick plays fast and loose with morality in general and could cost him his family, but like all good cops, getting the bad guys comes first. He has a team of equally morally ambiguously colleagues, including Kaiwi Lyman, Maurice Compte, Mo McRae, all willing to bend a few rules to get the job done, all with a perpetual haunted look that speaks of too much combat on home soil.
In the opposite corner, the Outlaws: Merriman (Pablo Schreiber) and his very smart, very savvy band of clever bank robbers with military training and expertise. His right-hand man is Levi (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), a family man trying to make a better life for his wife and daughter. Merriman’s crew are planning a tremendously complicated bank heist on the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles. Ambitious? Absolutely. It takes a fatalist to pull it off and Merriman is all of that and more. It’ll take a man with a death wish like Nick Flanagan to bring it all crashing down.
The man in the middle is Merriman’s wheelman, Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) a sometime bartender with two strikes on his record for topping speeds of 178 of California roads. He’s soft-spoken and good-hearted and conflicted between the Sheriff’s Department not sending him to jail, and Merriman’s zealous vision of the ultimate heist.
Den of Thieves has a lot of compelling moving parts and even with a running time of 140 minutes, not once does it feel long or drawn out. You understand the lunatics on both sides, their motivations, and their Achilles heels. If you’re going to carry a torch, logically it’s for Donnie. Totally fair. He’s got Merriman’s charisma and Flanagan’s balls, but his boy next door charm is winning all over the place. He takes the brunt of abuse from all sides, but I promise you it’s worth it.
For such a large ensemble cast, the background characters don’t feel like mere window dressing. They add depth and layers to an already intricate storyline. Dawn Olivieri okays Flanagan’s long-suffering wife, Debbie, who cuts out on him when he can use the most support. On the eve of what could be the biggest bust of his career, he finds himself adrift without the anchor of his family. The film’s portrayals of strippers become sympathetic mini-dramas because they’re dedicated wives, mothers, and girlfriends. You may find yourself at odds with your own internal compass. If you had to survive in this world – what choices would you make? The dramatic sucker punches are powerful, the action – and it gets loud – feels as painful as it sounds, and the film is intense from the first gunshot to the last gasp of breath.
You’re going to want to see Den of Thieves, and you’re going to want to talk about it.
Den of Thieves is rated R for swears, the n-word, strippers, booze, loooooots of shooting, people getting dead, and metaphorical penis-swinging (GUNS!)