Saturday, June 19, 2021

Movie Reviews: Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves
directed by Christian Gudegast
This is a heist/action film which references movies or shows such as Heat, Animal Kingdom, and Now You See Me. It's more intelligent than it looks. 
The ending may cause you to rewatch it. My only quibble was that as is common with many such stories the viewer will likely have seen many of the scenes and plot points before. There are a few actors who I thought didn't quite convince but generally this was an entertaining movie. 
I thought the actor who had the best role was Pablo Schreiber as Ray Merrimen, a veteran and former Marine Special Operations operative. I didn't recall until much later that back in the day Schreiber had also appeared on HBO's The Wire as Nick Sobotka.
Schreiber is also Liev Schreiber's little brother, though since he is now taller and more muscular than Liev, perhaps younger brother is a better description. Something similar happened to me with my younger brother. So it goes.
Anyhow, Ray is being released from prison. Ray robs. He goes wherever the money is, but what he specializes in are banks. As you may know, California prisons are segregated by race. In prison Ray was one of the white supremacist gang leaders, but now that he's out, Ray leaves that nonsense behind. Ray's putting the band back together, which includes people of various races: White, Black, Asian-Pacific Islanders, etc. 
The common elements are that his closest criminal associates either played football with Ray in high school or served with him in combat. These are people Ray trusts with his life. Ray knows what they can or can't do and how they will react when things get rough. 
The gang's most prominent members include Enson Levoux (Curtis Jackson), Bo Osterman (Evan Jones), Mack (Cooper Andrews), and the new guy, skilled driver Donnie Wilson (Straight Outta Compton's O'Shea Jackson Jr.)
Ray is cold, calculating, and fair. If you play straight with Ray, he'll take care of you. If you don't then either Ray or Enson will take you for a one way ride. Ray lives by a code that is derived from his high school football days and Marine experiences. 
Play between the lines and through the whistle. Ray and his team generally eschew violence against non-combatants and/or people who have stood down and are following orders. But if you're in a uniform and are shooting at them they'll put you in the ground with no regrets. Ray has no time for snitches or incompetents.
Ray has a plan for an impossible caper. Ray intends to rob the local Federal Reserve Bank of about $30 million in currency designated for destruction and thus untraceable. This job not only will cement Ray's rep as the greatest bank robber ever, it might even allow Ray and his team to retire from the game. Ray has planned everything down to the second. It will be the most difficult score Ray has ever done.

Unfortunately for #TeamRay as he and his team are getting back in criminal condition by doing a sort of practice run for the bank job they pop up on the radar of the LA County Sheriffs, in particular Detective "Big Nick" O'Brien (Gerard Butler).
Nick is the ironic law enforcement counterpart to Ray. Both men played high school football for rival schools. Both men are large alpha males who lead multiracial teams of men dedicated to their work. Where Ray is cool, calm, and collected under extreme conditions, Nick is prone to routine displays of swaggering machismo and brutality. Ray plots and thinks logically. Nick reacts and goes with his gut. 
Ray is muscle and precision. He rarely says anything he doesn't mean to say. Nick is running to bloat. Nick's ego makes him say or reveal things better kept to himself. He has substance abuse issues. All the same Nick thinks he's found Ray's weak spot. He intends to exploit it.
This film was made in 2018. I think if it were made today Nick would be portrayed with a little more nuance. He really is a bully with a pretty unpleasant personality. The viewer will probably wind up rooting for the "bad guys".
The film looks good. The big heist has plenty of tension and excitement. There are all the requisite surprises that one might expect from this sort of film. The film's big drawback is, as mentioned, it's one of a long line of such films. Unlike many such heist films there's not really a serious love interest/conflict for anyone. Nick regularly cheats on his wife Debbie (Dawn Oliveri). Nick isn't concerned about getting caught so much as he's worried about losing his relationship with his daughters or his "authority" over his wife. Enson's wife gets little screen time. Ray has some sad mercenary relationships with strippers.
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