Awash in tough-guy nonsense, an icky sense of morality and a needlessly bloated 140-minute runtime that somehow feels longer, Chris Gudegast’s Den of Thieves has nearly nothing going for it. Maybe if it were a bit shorter, maybe if it were less concerned with which actor has the thickest neck, maybe if it were a bit less loathsome. If you add up all those maybes and add on the definites — that Gudegast isn’t Michael Mann, Gerard Butler isn’t Al Pacino, Pablo Schreiber (13 Hours) isn’t Robert De Niro and Den of Thieves isn’t Heat (1995) — then you end up with a movie that’s astoundingly wrongheaded and downright dull.
Butler stars as Big Nick, a tough-as-nails cop who’s the best there is at tracking down bank robbers. Schreiber plays Merrimen, the best there is at robbing banks. And of course, the two dovetail as Merrimen begins to hatch a plan to hold up the Federal Reserve. It’s a simple enough foundation, but Gudegast — who wrote and directed this thing —wants moral weight and complexity added to his big, dumb crime movie but makes the tragic mistake of thinking runtime, minor surprises and a plot that spins its wheels as some type of weighty commentary on the dichotomy of man.
Den of Thieves really wants to show how muddy morality can be, with Big Nick and his crew being just as shady as the robbers they’re trying to take down. But there’s nothing really being said by the film in this regard since it all comes across as tough-guy machismo. It’s tough to show the complexities of human nature when every character in your film is a loathsome meathead. Not only this, but every character is a cliched loathsome meathead, since creating a crime film that’s got some original ideas and some amount of thought behind it is the last thing Gudegast seems interested in.
Much of the problem is that I think Gudegast is just too in love with his movie, which is commendable, but the script (full of holes and cliches) and the talent just isn’t there to back him up. There’s this sense that he’s making a movie he finds infinitely clever, with its various twists and turns (which just get sillier and more convoluted as the film goes on) and the cat-and-mouse game between Big Nick and the criminal mastermind (who’s really only some sort of a genius because the screenplay continually lets him off the hook) is downright goofy at points. It all makes for a bloated, noisy and shockingly dull movie. Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. Now playing at AMC Classic River Hills, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.