We all know January sucks for the most part in terms of movie releases. Studios are either pushing their Oscar hopefuls out wide or dumping the things they couldn’t release the rest of the year. It’s a rare case when a January movies are rarely something to get excited about, but January movies are something different from just bad movies. A January movie isn’t just awful, it’s lost. Often aimless and pointless, it finds its way into the only month that will accept it. Maybe it isn’t even a “bad” movie, but just kind of has no point.
In that way Den of Thieves couldn’t be a more January movie: a film that seems completely devoid of any point or true effort. It’s a movie with famous people in it, but it’s unclear why it exists at all. It makes no point and does nothing special. If a movie was ever to define January movies this would probably be it.
Den of Thieves
Director: Christian Gudegast
Release Date: Friday, January 19
Den of Thieves has a plot I’m just not sure anyone really cared about if it made much sense. Part dirty cop drama, part heist movie the film never settles into anything even close to a single tone or personality, and its story is all over the place because of it. Gerard Butler plays Nick “Big Nick” Flanagan, the head of a major crimes unit in Los Angeles. He and his team are dirty cops who do anything to catch their man, and in this case their man is Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), an ex-marine who is an expert bank robber. Merrimen has collected together a team of thieves, including Levi Enson (50 Cent), in order to commit one big heist to set them all straight. The two teams come to a head, as a bit of divorce drama for Big Nick plays out in the background.
I think the movie wants to raise questions about who are really the good guys. Nick, and his team, are all pretty terrible human beings. They drink and cheat on their wives while breaking the law and torturing people to crack cases. There is almost no redeeming value to them. On the other hand the criminals show a sense of family and compassion lacking from the police officers, and their plan to steal money hurts literally no one as the cash is set to be destroyed. But they also do some terrible things as well, to the point of murdering multiple people. As such the film never actually sets up an actual dichotomy between the two and you end up not being sure who you’re supposed to care about. That could have been the point all along, but when you’re wishing that the movie would end with everyone in it dying I don’t think it did its job.
It’s really unclear what that job is anyway. For the first half of the film you get an over-the-top attempt to be a really gritty police drama. It fails spectacularly, with director Christian Gudegast lacking any ability to portray subtlety or complex ideas (such as the difference between good and bad). Then the second half of the film turns into a outlandish heist movie, ditching entire plot threads like Nick’s family life and divorce. This plays a bit better since it is more in Gudegast’s wheel house, but it isn’t really that great a heist in the first place, and the classic heist twist is poorly set up. The concluding payoff is a let down, with the gritty crime drama clashing into the heist movie in a conclusion that makes little sense, both emotionally and in terms of plot.
I can’t even say that the action is all that good. Since the film is desperately trying to be something akin to Training Day, but also an Ocean’s Eleven rip off, it plays its action in this weird middle ground between gritty realism and bombastic gun fights. Everyone carries around assault rifles at all times, and bullets rain down constantly, but its all at odds with the tone of the dirty cop movie played out behind it. Then, when the heist film kicks in, it’s not ridiculous enough to play into the twists and turns of a movie like that.
Caught in this crossfire is a cast who could care less. Butler, whose bread and butter is January-style action movies (see Olympus Has Fallen and Geostorm), puts on gruff cop about as comfortably as a suit made out of porcupines. He’s not bad per se, but the role just seems a little off for him. 50 Cent meanwhile is given about four lines of dialog and then left to stand around with nothing to do. If ever there has been a casting done simply to plaster a name on a poster this is it. Finally, I’m not sure what Schreiber was going for, but if it was “jacked guy whose face barely changes” then he nailed it.
Den of Thieves isn’t the worst movie ever, and I’m not going to declare it the worst film of the year. It’s just horribly aimless and lacking in any vision. It is why the month of January exists or maybe January is why movies like this exist. I’m not sure. The point is that February cannot get her soon enough, because another week of movies like this is just too much to bear.