Den of Thieves **
One Liner Review:
A bank robbery movie that rips off Heat every chance it can get until it’s time to rip off other movies like Sicario and the Usual Suspects, everything about this movie has been done in other, better movies before, and yet it’s still kind of B movie level fun.
Movies are generally pretty smart about ripping off each other, not making it overly obvious and taking some pride in disguising the similar ideas or elements. Not this one. Den of Thieves is an absolute blatant rip off of Heat. It knows it, and it doesn’t care. It doesn’t even care to try to disguise it. Here’s a movie that says Heat was made twenty years ago and is ripe for a remake. Only without calling it “Heat” or referencing that movie, it feels kind of unethical. But the story here tries to copy the Deniro and Pacino showdowns, (only here it’s Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber, not quite the same thing.) And in doing so, it actually makes a mess of what made Heat so great. For example, it was because the interactions between Pacino and Deniro were so limited that they felt so special. So what is this movie’s solution? Put more of those interactions in. The few touches of originality here and there generally work, but even when this movie isn’t recycling Heat, it is taking things from other movies (The Shawshank Redemption, Sicario, and of course, The Usual Suspects.) Here is a movie by a creative team that really didn’t have much creativity, and instead decided to take ideas from other movies and cobble them all together. The result is not very good.
Talk about ripping off another movie, Den of Thieves is practically a beat for beat remake of Heat without calling it that. This movie takes every possible thing it can think of from Heat (short of the Val Kilmer – Ashely Judd storyline,) and doesn’t exactly do much with it. What I mean by that is, nothing about this movie is better than Heat. Sometimes a movie will take the ideas of another film and improve on them. Like, “what if we just went in that previous movie had gone in this direction instead?” If you can make a change to make the movie better, or even make a part of the movie better than maybe it’s worthwhile, but Den of Thieves doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have any fresh take on the Heat storyline, unless you include the way it rips other a few other movies for it’s ending… first Sicario and then clearly The Usual Suspects. This is what happens when a filmmaker doesn’t have any ideas of his own and instead just decides to take the best parts of other movies, while leaning heavily on one film in particular.
Let’s start by talking about what this director (the guy who wrote one of the Olympus Has Fallen movies for Gerard Butler,) might have been thinking. Clearly he’s a huge fan of Heat and decided that now twenty years later, (that’a right, Heat was made in 1995,) it was time to remake that movie. But it’s one thing to borrow ideas and flow from a movie, the way The Town considers Heat the movie that influenced it, (there’s even a TV with Heat playing in the background at one point, as an homage.) And it’s another to take whole plot points from that movie, again and again. So a best guess is that this director said maybe he could remake Heat with a more diverse cast, (most of the villains are black,) by combining the endings of other films to give us a final twist, and by putting one spin on the end heist. Without giving it away, there’s one thing that happens with the final heist at a bank, that is original. Let’s put it this way…. you get two heists for the price of one. But other than that, this movie is an absolute rip off.
So now let’s start talking about why. There’s a massive list of connections between the movies, and they have to start with the opening heist which is of an armored truck. Just like in Heat. After that, the crew gets back and discusses how they shot a cop, and are cop killers now. Just like in Heat. But if you’re willing to give this movie a pass on some things, that you can let those first matches go. After all, there have been other movies that featured armored car robberies too. But then, while the cops are investigating the next morning, the bad guys send one of their members out to snap photos of the cops. WHAT? This is an exact and blatant rip off of Heat, where Neil McCally, (Robert Deniro’s character,) took pictures of the cops as they walked a scrap yard trying to figure out what the bad guys were looking at. “You wanna know what they’re looking at? They’re looking at us. The LAPD. Smile boys. We just got made.” Yes, Heat is incredible quotable. Den of Thieves is not.
So now we meet Big Nick (Gerard Butler,) a guy who looks drunk as he walks the crime scene and clearly has had a rough night. And this movie just gets stupid with the character right away. It has him pick up a doughnut from a corpse, (from inside a box with blood on it,) take a few bites, and then throw it away. Think about that for a moment, this guy bent down to look in the box and see if there were doughnuts in there so he could eat one. The doughnut probably had blood on it from a dead body. This is the level of intelligence of the movie. And clearly it’s on purpose and it’s telling us that this guy just doesn’t care, but it’s not funny the way the movie thinks it is. Luckily, Big Nick does get called out on this.
The opening heist, despite being an action scene that we’ve seen done better in other movies, is still a somewhat exciting scene. But we don’t get any more until the end of the movie. That’s right. There are no other heists until the end. And this is a two hour and twenty minute movie. How is that possible? The way they stretch this thing out is by giving us tons and tons of pointless scenes. And most of them exist only to try to do the same thing that Heat was doing. For example, we don’t need the garbage story about Big Nick and his wife. We don’t need him crashing her dinner party (just like Pacino came and found his wife with another guy, Ralph, and grabbed the TV set.) We don’t need a scene of Big Nick stopping by his kid’s school to talk with his daughter for a few minutes outside the fence at recess. Obviously this is meant to be like Pacino taking Natalie Portman to school and having some one on one time with her. But how about instead of going beat for beat with Heat, what if this movie instead tried to develop some of the other characters a little? We don’t know a think about anyone in Big Nick’s crew. In fact, all the members of that team feel the same. In Heat, we might not have learned about the character’s lives, but they certainly all felt different.
Speaking of learning about character’s lives, that’s the gimmick to this movie to begin with. Let’s spend an equal amount of time in the movie with the bad guys team as we do with the good guys team. That was the idea behind Heat and that’s the idea behind this movie too. In fact, just look at the poster, (in the pictures at the top of this review,) where they literally have the good guys on one half of the post, and the bad guys upside down on the other half, as if they are looking into a mirror. Aside from the fact that they put 50 Cent ahead of Pablo Schreiber (Merryman, the leader of the bad guys,) simply because he is a bigger name, this poster still feels pretty cliched. If you have to tell us in the poster that you’re trying to make the point with the movie that these characters are basically the same, no matter what side of the law they’re on, then you’re already spelling out which movies this one is trying to copy. And doing a pretty poor job of it.
To do a good job would be to disguise the copying more. Again, the Town is the perfect example. But here, this movie, (just like Big Nick with the doughnut,) clearly doesn’t care. In Heat, part of the gimmick was the fact that Pacino and DeNiro only had one real face to face, (until the very ending.) It was a sit down scene in a restaurant. Well, Den of Thieves decides it can try and top that by having the characters have a whole bunch of face to face meets. Only the reason why Heat waited so long and built up to that was because by doing it that way, it made the scene special. Not to mention, it’s DeNiro and Pacino, which is miles and miles away from Butler and Schreiber. But this movie has the characters confront each other every chance it can get… like in a Habachi restaurant, in a gun range, and even in Merryman’s own house, after Big Nick has slept with Merryman’s girlfriend, (a plotline that is more than pointless, it is bizarly stupid.)
In fact, most of what goes on here is pretty stupid. The cops decide very early into the movie to pick up a guy who they believe is in the bad guy crew. They pick up Donnie, the driver, (O’Shea Jackson, from Straight Outta Compton.) And they bring him to a hotel room and taser him and get him to talk. This scene is actually pretty cool. It’s one of the only things original about the movie. These guys on the cop team, Major Crimes, keep saying things like, “you’re not the bad guys, we’re the bad guys,” meaning they don’t play by the rules or follow the law. They say things like, “do we look like the kind of guys who will handcuff you? No. We’ll just shoot you.” But we don’t get to see a whole lot of that. In fact, this hotel room scene is really the only time we see the cops violating protocol, (unless you count eating a doughnut off a corpse.) So they get Donnie talking a little bit. He claims to not know much, and so he can’t give them much.
But then both the good guys and the bad guys all show up with their families or dates to a Habachi restaurant. Now, first of all this is another blatant rip off of Heat, where we got to see both the good guys and bad guys out at restaurants with their wives. But aside from that, the way the scene plays out is just stupid, with Big Nick approaching the bad guys just to let them know that he and Donnie are working together. The reason is obviously to let the bad guys know that the cops are watching them, hoping that this will make the bad guys slip up. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t make them change any of their plans. In other words, it is entirely pointless. And yes, we got the same thing in Heat, and in that movie, the bad guys did change their plans and walk away from a job the moment that got the feeling that the cops were onto them , (when one cop on a roof sat down a little too hard and caused a bang big enough for the bad guys to hear.)
Well, now Big Nick has tipped off Merryman that he and Donnie are working together, and Merryman threatens Donnie, (just like the bad guys team trying to kill Waingrow in Heat.) Then we get the bad guys scouting out their job, the Federal Reserve. This place looks just like the place that was robbed at the end of Triple Nine, another much better urban crime film than this one. And then we get the storyline where Big Nick sleeps with Merryman’s girlfriend because apparently Merryman asked her to do this. What? He asked her to sacrifice her body? And for what? Again, this is beyond pointless. Eventually we get to the shootout, which first feels like Sicario (in the narrow traffic jam street,) and then turns into the Usual Suspects with a twist that is so forced, it’s almost painful. But before that, even the one on one chase between the lead good guy and bad guy ends with the bad guys running away and then hiding behind large cube shaped boxes, (just like Heat.) It’s just too much. Too much copying. Too much stupidity. If you want to turn your brain off and try to enjoy this as a dopey B level movie, I suppose it might work. But intelligent this one is not. Creative, this one is not. And what it is, clearly, is an unapologetic rip off of other way better films.