Movie Review: Den of Thieves

Look, I had no intentions of this blog becoming a straight Gerard Butler fan site when we started it a few months ago, but in order for that to happen he has to stop starring in movies that I secretly kind of love. And, as long as Den of Thieves is playing in cinemas, that’s not going to happen.

Brutally, I didn’t want to see this movie. A miniseries-length Heat rip-off that starred Butler, Scotland’s original beefcake (a niche that we refer to as the “square sausage”), as a gangster cop on the edge. It sounded batshit in that uninteresting, ill-informed way, and the clunky trailers and bad reviews didn’t do much to convince me. But hey, when I find myself with nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon and more of a love for Geostorm than is strictly necessary in one human, I might as well give it a try.

And let me just jump in here and say this: I see why Den of Thieves is getting the reviews it is. It’s traditionally sexist, with a woman barely getting a line for the first forty minutes; Pablo Schrieber’s character, who is ostensibly the second lead, feels fatally two-dimensional right the way through the plot. The dialogue is hilarious and 50 Cent in a starring role can barely put on an earpiece discreetly without turning it into the film’s biggest comedic moment. The Robin Hood metaphor is cringingly clunky (Schreiber’s character is called “Merriman”, for the love of God. For the love of God). It’s so pointedly hetereosexual and macho that it’s one change of tone away from being a critique of toxic masculinity.

But you know, this movie does has a lot going for it, in terms of the genre. It fills it’s runtime with a well-paced heist thriller with just enough sharp comedy to keep it from descending into too po-faced. O’Shea Jackson, in another slightly beaten-down but endearing turn fresh off Ingrid Goes West, makes for a watchable leading man caught between the cops and the robbers. It passes on dumb, non-stop action scenes to build some decent tension and scenes of glaringly hilarious machismo performed with a nod and wink. As crime thriller movies go, it’s a damn sight better than Molly’s Game, and that got nominated for Oscars. But Den of Thieves real strength, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, lies in it’s leading man, Gerard Butler.

Butler, as Nick O’Brien, an unhinged cop on the edge intent on taking down his targets at the expense of his personal life, puts in one of the most deranged performances I’ve seen in a long time, and that enough buoys the movie through it’s hard-sell moments. He eats a donut off the bloodied floor of a crime scene in his introduction; he plays an imaginary flute on his divorce papers. He punctuates every sentence with a light slap to O’Shea Jackson’s face. He ruins two seperate dinners. He – that is, Butler, not the character – doesn’t look as though he’s showered in months. A perma-lit cigarette crammed into a vest top, Butler oozes heroically unlikeable, totally watchable machismo, and is obviously having a screaming good time playing this version of toxic masculinity rendered flesh. Honestly, I would reccommend this movie just to see him. I’ve seen a lot of mad performances in the last year, but this one stands out as one of the most unexpected and therefore one of the most instantly memorable.

And I’m not just saying that to be cute, or to go against the critical grain and garner some clicks, or because he’s one of about three people from my home country to succeed in the last fifteen years. No, it’s because at the end of the day I would rather watch a less-than-stellar actor like Butler really committing to a role than I would watch a fantastic actor, like, say, DeNiro, half-arsing their way through a performance. Yes, that’s right, I’ll fucking say it – in 2018, I would rather watch a Gerard Butler movie than a Robert DeNiro room, because I at least know that Gerard Butler likely gives the remotest shit about the role he’s playing and will commit with gusto to a bit, even if that bit is evidently an awful idea, while a lot of well-established actors like DeNiro turn up to handwave away a few lines and collect a cheque. When it comes down to it, the commitment of the cast is one of the things that makes or breaks a movie and, in this case, Den of Thieves survives on Gerard Butler’s chaotic, flawed, but totally compelling commitment to his gangster cop from hell. If you’ve got a Sunday afternoon to kill and nothing better to do, it’s not to be missed.

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