‘Heist movies tend to be a bit superficial, glamorous, and fun. They don’t tend to be emotionally engaging.’ Christopher Nolan
The heist film has been a mainstay of cinemas for the past century. Watching your favourite stars working out plans to steal or potentially to apprehend those who plan to take from institutions or individuals who have something of value in their procession has been a fantastic platform for crimefighting and drama. These depictions of theft have even been at the heart of some of the most significant comedies and romances and have defined director Steven Soderbergh’s career (Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky). Despite the multitude of incarnations of these crime films, there continues to be a market for the straightforward battle for the big score. Screenwriter turned director Christian Gudegast’s debut film has all of the earmarks of a story that is reminiscent of Heat or The Town, but can it steal the hearts of audiences?
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has been investigating robberies that have occurred throughout the city which have been coordinated by a crew led by Ray Merriman (Pablo Schreiber). His team of ex-military men have been able to capitalise on their unique skills provided by the government to strategically plan some of the most elaborate heists and efficiently evade law enforcement. When they set their eyes on the Federal Reserve Bank, they must think of some creative tactics to score their biggest take to date.
The key obstacle to the plans of these modern outlaws is the tenacious team at the Sheriff Department led by Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler). Utilising less than orthodox methods of gaining access to the robbers, this group of deputies seem to have found their first break with the cooperation of Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who is of one the newest gang members.
The key to a great heist film comes down to the effective use of well-timed twists and turns to keep law enforcement and audiences off balance. In the process, the production team must maintain the logic of the storyline without losing the plot along the way. Gudegast’s script does contain clever elements that show that the young director understands this genre, but like many writer/directors, his crucial misstep is showing restraint. With an inability to know when to edit the film down to tight and explosive, but it becomes weighed down by unnecessary elements that detract from the overall experience.
Den of Thieves is shot in the vein of a straightforward heist film with a subtle nuance of telling the story of both sides of the big score. The parallel narrative makes for an odd viewing experience since neither side provides much appeal to cheer for to the end.The morally ambiguous nature of the script fails to make caring for anyone on screen.
Each team possess an underlying brilliance and awareness of what it takes to get their work completed but lacks the emotional connection to care about who comes out on top. When the inevitable twists occur throughout the film, because there is little buy-in from the viewer, there is little satisfaction in the conclusion. Christian Gudegast and Gerard Butler have provided something for the die-hard heist fan, but nothing new to add to the genre.
REEL DIALOGUE – What determines your moral centre?
If there is anything to take away from films like Den of Thieves is that there is something wrong with this world. The moral ambiguity of the law enforcement in the film may be hard to stomach, but is not hard to understand. The discomfort may come from asking where we determine our own morality.
In this world where everyone has an opinion about every moral stance, it has become critical to figure out how to answer this philosophical question. The answer can be found in studying the person of Jesus. Not that it is a simple answer, but as you look into his life and death the answer will be evident. Pick up one of the accounts of his life and see how God answers this multi-layered query with one man.
1. Can we find truth in this world? (John 14:6, 1 Corinthians 13:4-6)
2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19)
3. Is it possible to come out from under our circumstances? (Psalm 40:17, Romans 8:38-39)