It’s well established in my podcasting and writing career that I do not care for the work of actor Gerard Butler. Butler’s acting tends to be lazy and inconsistent, and the movies he chooses to make range from mediocre to abysmal. Two years ago, two of his movies ranked in my top two worst movies of 2016. I despise Butler’s work more than that of either Eli Roth's or Adam Sandler's—two other regular targets of my vitriol.
Fair to say, I wasn’t looking forward to Butler’s latest effort, the cops vs. crooks action flick Den of Thieves. The trailer was nothing special and early reviews did nothing to change my mind nor make me any more or less eager to perform my duty as a film critic. Now that I have finally seen Den of Thieves, I can say that I am not surprised to find myself not recommending it, but I am a little surprised that it is not nearly as terrible as Butler’s usual work.
Den of Thieves stars Butler as cop cliché ‘Big Nick.’ Big Nick doesn’t play by the rules—surprise, surprise. Nick leads a team of Los Angeles County Sheriffs who are investigating the robbery and theft of an armored car, which also led to the killing of two police officers. This robbery is the first thing we see in Den of Thieves and it’s not all that great. The action is nothing special and the shooting style is professional but, again, nothing special.
The bad guys are led by Merriman (Pablo Schreiber) a former Special Forces cliche turned thief cliche. Merriman’s team includes a pair of fellow former Special Forces members, Bosco (Evan Jones), Enson (Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson) and their driver, Donnie (O’Shea Jackson). When Donnie gets picked up by Big Nick and his team, he becomes the focal point of both sides in a deadly game of cat and mouse between cops and robbers.
O’Shea Jackson, best known as the son of Ice Cube, and one of the stars of the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, outclasses his co-stars and this material. Jackson’s Donnie is the best character in the movie with the most interesting performance. His one suspenseful scene, a daring robbery and escape, is the one truly great scene in this overlong two hour and 20 minute bore.
Writer Christian Gudegast makes his directorial debut with Den of Thieves and while he’s not terrible, especially for a first effort, he’s not that great either. Gudegast also wrote the screenplay for Den of Thieves along with the far more terrible screenplays for London Has Fallen and the Vin Diesel action movie, A Man Apart. Surprisingly, Gudegast is a better director than he is a writer based on the evidence in Den of Thieves.
As for Gerard Butler, at the very least, he’s more engaged here than he’s been in his last several films. Butler actually seems awake for much of Den of Thieves though in scenes where he’s called upon for drama his disinterest quickly returns. Nick’s familial subplot in Den of Thieves is the worst aspect of the movie—forced, contrived and only demonstrates the worst of Nick as a character and the worst of Butler as an actor.
That said, Butler is really only mediocre in Den of Thieves which is an improvement over his most recent work. I didn’t loathe Butler in Den of Thieves like I did in London Has Fallen, Geostorm and Gods of Egypt, so he’s got that going for him. I don’t know if it’s his laziness or his poor choices that bother me more, but at the very least, if he can seem like he’s trying the way he seems to be trying in Den of Thieves, perhaps I will dislike him less in the future.
Den of Thieves is not the worst movie I have seen in 2018 and that in itself is a positive. I set the bar pretty low for this one, expecting it to be the worst movie of January at the very least. So, not actively loathing it is as close to compliment that I can give to Den of Thieves. I don’t recommend you see it but if you were to tell me you wanted to watch Den of Thieves, I would not go out of my way to discourage you—though I would say wait for Netflix or cable.