“Den of Thieves” is a heist film that shows you don’t need the star power of De Niro and Pacino to bring the heat.

I went into “Den of Thieves” fully expecting not to like it. Based on the preview, it looked like a typical action film with car chases and shootouts. The movie does contain plenty of expected action, yet at the hands of writer and director Christian Gudegast, he handles this in a way that makes for an engaging film that stands out in an era of cookie cutter action flicks.

Den of Theives

“Den of Thieves” begins with an armored truck being robbed by a small group of well-trained criminals led by Merrimen (played by Pablo Schreiber). Merrimen is an ex-marine turned successful bank robber. The film starts, however, with a less than successful heist on the armored truck. When one of the security guards goes for his gun and the police arrive, the robbers start shooting. One of the robbers is killed along with a handful of police.  “We are cop killers now,” Merrimen states as they arrive back at the safe house, with the armored truck. The truck turns out to be empty, but apparently the guys already knew that it would be.

The next day we are introduced to the Major Crimes Unit, a group of skeezy cops led by Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler). Based on the behavior of Flanagan and team, we quickly learn they are not above intimidating and assaulting suspects to get the information they want. Flanagan and team track down and kidnap the driver for the thieves – Donnie, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. Flanagan proceeds to beat him into revealing the plans of the team.

In “Den of Thieves” the police are as bad as the criminals and in some ways worse. This is shown throughout the unfolding of the film. At the home of one of the criminals played by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, his teenage daughter is going to a dance and Jackson’s character harasses her date by flexing some muscle. The thieves are family men like the rest of us.  We also have Flanagan in the midst of a breakdown, as his wife leaves him and he moves through the film drinking and bullying his way around. We are always waiting for him to assault someone such as his wife’s date or the people he encounters. Flanagan as a member of law enforcement believes he is above following the rules himself, while the thieves are normal people who just happen to rob banks.

The film is not one action sequence following next as might be expected from a film of this type. In fact, with the exception of the beginning and ending of the film, the majority of time is spent building tension. Merrimen and Nick Flanagan cross paths, usually by intention, in a game of chicken waiting to see who is going to crack first. The dynamic of the two is reminiscent of the dynamic between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in “Heat”. This is played out in a moment during a heist where they have a phone conversation reminding us of the diner scene in that movie.

The moments with guns drawn and action happening is well choreographed.  Christian Gudegast does an excellent job of portraying the fight sequences in a way that makes them believable. The guns don’t have an infinite amount of ammunition, and when people are shot, they don’t just shake it off.  The soldiers work as a team, covering and moving in a way that makes them look well trained as they would be with Marine training.

The film is a bit long at nearly two and a half hours, as it works its way to the final, a heist on the Federal Reserve Bank in Los Angeles.  Despite the runtime, I wasn’t checking my watch waiting for it to end. Watching it, I enjoyed the performance by each of the characters – the thieves that you like and the cops that you are rooting against. If you are looking for something that has strong performances and action sequences that don’t make you roll your eyes in disbelief, check out “Den of Thieves.”

Review by Milo Denison, owner of D Studios Media and one of the founders of No-Budget.