Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber front a Heat-style crime saga that just about passes muster
Gerard Butler is no Al Pacino. Nor is Den of Thieves the modern-day answer to Heat, as much as it would like to be. This LA-set thriller is clearly in thrall to Michael Mann's epic crime saga and boasts no shortage of gun-play and macho swagger. What it lacks is the poetry – two giants in their field finally meeting their match – that made Heat such a stellar achievement.
While Butler gives his all, his character 'Big' Nick O'Brien is painted in broad, cliché-drenched strokes. He's the baddest of bad lieutenants, leading a tattoo-clad elite LA County Sheriff's Department team that could just as easily pass for felons. The gang in O'Brien's crosshairs are ex-military, fronted by super criminal Ray Merrimen (Orange Is the New Black's Pablo Schreiber – excellent).
Early on, when Merrimen's merry men rob an armoured truck, they show just how professional – and ruthless – they are. Security guards wind up dead, and O'Brien's team look to shake down young wheelman Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr. from Straight Outta Compton) for information. When he reveals under duress that they're planning a huge heist, it becomes the ultimate cat-and-mouse game.
To be fair, writer-director Christian Gudegast makes a reasonable job of the robbery and shoot-out sequences in downtown Los Angeles, as Merrimen's gang look to do the impossible and break into the Federal Reserve. There are plenty of twists, with nods to The Usual Suspects also made but, with the muddled plot never quite making sense, it becomes a case of simply going with it.
Gudegast (who wrote London Has Fallen, also starring Butler) drops in some arresting scenes, notably an unnerving moment where both O'Brien and Merrimen are practicing at a shooting range. There's even some out-there levity (a prom-date warning springs to mind). But despite its pace and fine sense of place, Den of Thieves falls far short of greatness.
General release from Fri 2 Feb.