Saturday, 10 February 2018

Den of Thieves is good (spoilers)

It has a massive split rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If you are part of the intended audience then the 70-something audience rating is much more accurate.

I thought this was a somewhat-inventive film that had a lot more thought, care and attention paid to it than most of the reviewers who watched it realised.

Yes, this is about highly-ritualised hyper-masculine dudes who bleed testosterone when shot sitting in rooms and coming up with complex procedural plans to out-plan the other guys plans. And yes this is essentially porn to me. But if you like tough dudes in rooms and MEN with PLANS, and procedural crimes, then you will probably like this.


"But isn't is just a Wallmart Heat?"

Well yes. But also no.

Its more like a social-realist Heat.

Its more realistic (for a given value of 'realistic') than Heat, slightly. partly because the actors are less super-dramatically charismatic, and partly because the social milieu is more deeply filled in and makes more intuitive and direct sense.

Gnarly Fucked-Up drawn-out, beardy, continually-chewing Gerard Butler (I think he takes something either into or out of his mouth in every scene) as a cop could have walked right out of real life and into the film.  He's a mixture of bullishly unpleasant, occasionally stupid, brave, and nasty-crafty in a manner that feels very true to life.

He feels real and, like everyone in DoT, he carries the implied socioeconomic and cultural background of his pseudo-history with him. When Pablo Schreibers baddy looks up his photo online, he looks kinda lumpy and meat-headed and like a cop, or like a normal person in a bad photo. Al Pachino in that photo would have looked fly as fuck, like everyone in Heat looks fly as fuck, even in surveillance photos. Gerard is painfully out of place in the middle-class life he's built for himself, much more comfortable in is quasi-millitaristically-ritualised team/group, and when hanging out with scumbags.

Heat is set in Micheal Manns 'Thief World' where people just are thieves and are cops. They enter the story that way and leave it that way. This is a mild point in the film; Robert Dinero is meant to be a mysterious placeless lonely dude and this is part of his story, but it feels broadly true for a lot of the main cast.

No-one in DoT feels like that, everyone feels like they come from a very particular socio-economic-racial particular background.

So there are three main groups in the film, the Tough-Guy cops, the American Football Players and the Soccer Players. We only really realise the Soccer Players are a group at the end

The cops from the tough-guy Major Crimes unit all feel like ex-miltary, or the smartest or nastiest guys in their previous departments.

Gerard Butler is definitely the guy who was head of the (American) Football team, or just the guy in the team who beat up the other side, and then became a cop.

The main bad-guy gang are based around ex-soldiers and guys who knew each other from playing American Football together in High School. Pablo Schreiber, the main antagonist, pretty much bleeds green in this.  He feels so military that the moment you see him you want to either salute him, paint him grey or load and fire him, and all this is communicated though manner, bearing and attitude.

50 Cent is actually kinda good in this. His characters kept so close to naturalistic that he can pretty much play him straight as-is.

Schreiber and Cent played football together in school and served together in the millitary, everyone else in their gang did either one or another of those things too.

And they went to a school with a particular black-white mix and with, as Butlers character puts it 'a bunch of fat-assed samoans', so thats why they are always hanging out with a lot of Pacific Islanders when we go to their homes. There are soft race lines in DoT, they get crossed, but only for particular reasons.

We do get the scene where the cops look at a photo of fifty and Pablo in combat gear somewhere in the middle east and say 'they served together' but we don't really need it since we know that already, we can feel it coming off the screen whenever they are around.

And then we have the secret team, based around O'Shea Jackson Jr, who are all non-white, non-military football (soccer) players. People who skirt the edge of the criminal world, but they skirt the edge of the civilian world too, ethnically. Kind of the nicer end of the criminal spectrum, a bit like some people I knew in collage. These are the smart-but-still-shady kids from school that the other two groups would never notice 'cause they weren't alpha enough.


Some of the bad reviews say that the male performances are overblown and unrealistic.

Not, from my limited experience, the case. Big Hairy Macho dudes in those jobs and social groups do generally act like that.

The parts when people shout quasi-cliches at each other seemed more to me that the director had done their research and was bringing out the actual quasi-cliches that cops and criminals tend to spout when hanging round rather than the ones stolen from movies.

Though I grant that the difference is hard to be precise about, since the real people are also watching the movies about them and using them as behaviour-fuel, and have been, I think, ever since the gangster films of the 20's.

Most of the social performances felt to me only slightly heightened, apart from any scene Gerard Butler is in, which is about half of them, which come under the Butler reality-alteration field.


Gerard Butler has had extra Gerard Butler added to himself (literally, he gained weight for the role) and the film basically has been spam-packed with Gerard Butler (there is also a Samoa/Spam joke, which I was very pleased to get and which I suspect I might be the only person in Birkenhead to have got) - anyway - HE IS IN THIS FILM A LOT.

Gerard shoulders his way across the screen like a goddamn silverback Gorilla and your attitude to Gerard will probably end up being your attitude to the film.

He's good. A big, burly, nasty charismatic man who quasi-bullies everyone around him and is willing to do some creepy shit in pursuit of some dudes who are generally ok except that they are pretty much fine with gunning down security guards who get a bit handy, and then cops who get upset about the security guards, and then pretty much any of the civilians who get in the way in the big gunfight at the end.

There's a sub-plot about his decaying marriage which sees him totally self-destruct and which seems, right until the end, as if its going to feed into the main plot, like his wife or kid are going to get kidnapped, but nope, that was just Gerard Butler destroying his life.

There's a pretty good scene where he walks into a party where his soon-to-be-ex wife is enjoying a party with some Middle-Class types and just sprawls resentfully all over them. There's no reason for it to be in the film other than that the director couldn't control, or didn't want to control, Gerard Butler. Its a fun scene (for me) and the careful attention to class and social mis-en-scene, combined with a load of macho bullshit, is typical for the film.


I've seen people talking about how the main plot of the film is labyrinthine and doesn't make sense.

It's not that labyrinthine compared to standard hollywood fare. And it does make sense.

This is the plot;

O'Shea Jackson Jr is a quiet, clever ex-con socially connected to a bunch of people who work in the Big Main Reserve Bank. Over a long period of time he builds up a complex picture of how it works and the basic details of a complex heist.

Pablo Schreiber is a scary, competent career bank-robber who has pulled off some difficult jobs, Jackson approaches him with the idea for the heist, but Schreiber says he will be in charge.

Jackson gets himself attached to Schreibers group as an apparent low-status member. Most of the gang don't know he is the SECRET MASTERMIND.

The Schreiber gang commit some unusual crimes to get material, information and resources to gain access to the Big Central Bank. One of these goes to shit and a gunfight breaks out.

They become cop killers. This is where the film starts.

Gerard Butlers Major Crimes unit starts hunting Schreibers gang. They see Jackson is some nerd attached to the group, grab him, and try to turn him. It looks like they succeed.

Schreibers group work out something is up and it looks like they are going to kill Jackson, but they don't, instead it looks like they will try to use him to feed info to the cops. This looks dumb and Hollywood at the time, but of course Schreiber won't kill Jackson, he knows he can trust him because its his fucking heist.

So at this point, to the audience, it looks like the film is these two super-tough guys, Schreiber and Butler, doing a GAME OF WITS, with poor soft Jackson caught in the middle, being used by both sides.

Schreibers gang run a robbery of a small bank and feed Butler info to make sure he's there. It turns into a hostage situation. It's a weird turn to the film.

But that robbery is to grab money and to distract Butler.

They use the money from the bank robbery as part of an elaborate and deep cover to gain access to the Big Main Bank Reserve. The construction of this cover was the main aim of everything they did up to this point. They walk in like money delivery guys, with a bank truck, the right details, and crucially, a big fucking box of money taken from their previous robberies. The money was part of their passport to get into the big uncrackable bank.

Once inside Jackson Jr, who is hidden in the money, uses a fake brownout as cover to divert a huge amount of old money that's already had its serial numbers deleted from the system, so it doesn't go to the shredder, instead he shoves it down the trash so it goes in the trash truck in trash bags.

The gang then exits the Big Central Bank, Jackson Jr using a cover as a delivery guy which he spent ages building up. The guys at the front desk don't have his name coming in, but since literally nothing is on record as happening, and they've seen him a million times before, they let him go.

Jackson Jr is already plotting to screw over Shreiber, two dump trucks cross in the street and swap routes.

Pablo Shreiber and Fifty Cent hijack the dump truck and drive it to a safe place. They grab the bags they expect to see from the back and run for it.

Meanwhile Jackson Jr has been picked up by Gerard Butler who beats him up and chases after Shreiber. Jacksons friend calls Schrieber to ask what to do and Shreiber cuts him off, he and fifty cent will take the money for themselves.

Butler finds Shreiber in a big traffic jam, they have a big gunfight, Butler chases down Shreiber and kills him.

When they find the money bags, there's no money in them and Jackson Jr escaped from their car while they were all dicking about fighting the main guy.

Some time later Butler visits Jackson Jrs old work and sees a photo of him in a football team with almost all of the low-level individuals who did cryptic shit during the heist, the guys in the money counting room, the dump truck drivers, the guy who did IT for Schreibers team and who Shreiber fucked over.

All the people who did hollywood-convenient plot shit during the film were actually part of a conspiracy to do that stuff, a conspiracy that actually makes sense since, in order to be part of it, none of them had to do anything illegal, or even suspicious, just order chinese from a certain place for lunch, drive a dump truck a certain way, walk down a corridor a particular way.

So a film that looked like it was about two big tough guys fighting each other was actually about a nerd outmaneuving two big tough guys from a position of apparent weakness.

This is one of the few films I've seen where the more I think about it, the more clearly things are explained and the fewer plot holes there are.

In fact I'm not sure there are any actual plot holes in Den of Thieves, which is rare. If anyone found any, let me know.


  1. Everything about this film looked like grumpy alpha males growling at each other and so I had zero interest in seeing it; now I've got considerable interest in seeing it.

    1. Its still pretty much exactly that dude.

    2. Then your descriptive skills are good, but misleading. ;)