The opening of this movie is one of the most striking in recent bank heist films. A helicopter shot gives you a panorama of the Los Angeles City area at night, with statistics on how commonplace bank robberies are in this city. Then the action begins; gun shots with high powered firearms shatter the silence of the night and a driver and the guards of a bank van are killed. The odd thing is that the vehicle was carrying no cash at all, and so, the next morning, Detective Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) is quizzical of this inexplicable violence.
Director Christian Gudegast has given us a movie that is derivative of many films in this genre, particularly Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’. Of course, the makers here would choose to use the words ‘inspired by’ or ‘paying homage to’ when referring to the said trend setter. However, if we settle for much less in terms of production values, character development and plot devices, ‘Den of Thieves’ works as a mildly entertaining film on a smaller scale.
It has to be admitted that the film is rarely dull, until the final shoot out. Till then, the focus is on establishing a connection between a string of small bank robberies - where the motive seems less about stealing cash and more about gathering data - and then using that information to predict the actual heist that is to take place in the future. Detective O’Brien figures out that the gang is performing dress rehearsals for the big day - robbing the Federal Reserve, considered unbreakable.
Apart from hookers and strippers, there is just one female character in the film. This is O’Brien’s wife, Debbie (Dawn Olivieri), who leaves her husband when he mistakenly sends her a text meant for one of the women he has slept with. Since this is essentially a male bonding film, both for the den of thieves and the den of cops, the break-up of his marriage comes through, not as a moment of sadness as it was intended, but as the best ‘dumb cop’ joke in the film.
However, rarely does the movie get you to laugh with the characters, and what you have are pretty uni-dimensional people who just concentrate on the action. It is the vast and desolate urban area of Los Angeles which turns out to be the only fully rounded ‘character’ in the film. The meaninglessness of human life in the context of this city jungle is the impact that the visuals in the film finally leave you with.