Friday, 28 February 2020

Movie review: Den of Thieves, dir Christian Gudegast (2018)

Featuring a bulky, middle-aged Gerard Butler as an unpleasant Los Angeles police officer named Nick O’Brien, this product wants to be more than a formulaic heist movie. Attempts to make the cops look more interesting through the use of dialogue doesn’t lead to enough high notes to overcome the desultory rumble of Butler’s epic wiseguy routine.

O’Brien is not just a smartarse, he’s actually toxic. In one scene he intimidates people who are portrayed as more successful than he is, and in others he is seen clashing with an FBI operative who is a vegan. The really objectionable thing is that it’s done almost without irony, but I’ll return to this point at the end of this review.

The shootout between, on the one hand, robbers Ray Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), Enson Levoux (50 Cent) and their crew and, on the other, the sheriff’s posse, is a bit too reminiscent of a war zone to really convince, though a war metaphor is apposite as two of the baddies had fought in the Middle East before turning to crime to support their mainland lifestyles. In real life police would never allow the kind of gunfight that ends the movie to happen out of fear of collateral damage in the form of death or injury of innocent bystanders.

Gudegast also wrote the screenplay and he attempts to blur the boundaries between the morals of the cops and those of the robbers, along lines marked out by character. I had to think about this movie for several days to understand what the filmmakers were actually trying to do. This is a cultural artefact that could only have been made post-2016, with its presidential election. And while the story is classic Hollywood – illustrating the twin obsessions of violence and greed, so often resorts for artists, especially in cinema – the close is neat; you won’t see it coming.

No comments: