Everyone loves a good heist film.
From Al Pacino and Roberto De Niro’s iconic tête-à-tête in Heat through to the Jazz-cool stylings of George Clooney, Brad Pitt et al in Ocean’s 11, heist films hold a special place in the hearts of a certain type of discerning movie-lover.
It’s the same with Gerard Butler.
Like Jason Statham before him, Butler knows his audience and is happy to give them exactly what they want: action movies with the machismo cranked up to 11.
Those two worlds collided earlier this year with Den of Thieves, a heist action thriller that arrived to little in the way of critical fanfare but quickly found an audience among cinema-goers seeking something other than superheroes, Jedis or yet another franchise sequel.
Much of the credit for that goes to Christian Gudegast, who wrote and directed the film and excels in both concerns.
A gritty crime saga of the kind that’s been missing from the multiplex of late, it tells a two-sided heist story about the lives of an elite unit of LA County Sheriff’s and the sophisticated bank robbery crew they are tasked with catching.
Gudegast is on familiar ground, having penned the scripts for both London Has Fallen and the underrated Vin Diesel thriller A Man Apart, and handles the action and dialogue with aplomb.
While some of Butler’s previous cinematic efforts have proven a little less sophisticated (we’re looking at you Geostorm) what separates Den of Thieves from the pack is a well-crafted script.
Another of the film’s biggest strengths is the film’s central heist, which is both ingenious and, in the hands of Gudegast, seeped in dramatic tension. It keeps you gripped and guessing to the very last moment.
Den of Thieves’ cast deserves an immense amount of credit too, including 50 Cent who puts in a solid performance alongside the charismatically menacing Pablo Schreiber.
Schreiber has been crying out for a movie role like this for some time, having impressed on both The Wire and American Gods and lives up to that promise with a surprisingly layered performance.
That experience on The Wire, in particular, seems to have stood him in good stead for the role of Ray Merrimen, a violent and calculated marine veteran turned thief.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. meanwhile, proves that Straight Out Of Compton was no fluke as the film’s ace in the hole, getaway driver Donnie Wilson.
And then there’s Butler, back to his best as the grizzled, booze-swilling “Big Nick” O’Brien. Coming off like Al Pacino’s Lt. Vincent Hanna on steroids, Butler beefed up for this role and it pays off.
He’s a walking, talking, occasionally gun-toting ball of mad masculine energy, ready to unleash hell on anyone that crosses his path.
And cross his path they do, with explosive results.
Den of Thieves isn’t some thoughtful meditation on the state of the US legal system. It’s not a takedown of the war on drugs ravaging America and beyond either.
What it is, is a hark back to the time when big guys with big guns went toe-to-toe both physically and mentally in the name of entertainment. Butler is one of the last surviving A-list action heroes still banging that drum, but the good news is he’ll be banging it for a little while yet.
Den of Thieves 2 has already been greenlit, following the success of the first instalment, with rumours suggesting the action could head to London.
All of the cast (minus one or two) are also in line to return.
Now if they could just get Statham involved somehow…
Den of Thieves – out now on Blu-ray™ & DVD.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.