Review by Daniel Pappas
A gritty crime saga which follows the lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank.
To begin with, this movie is only half-crime film. The other half is heist movie. With a runtime somewhere around two hours and twenty minutes, you start to wonder if they should’ve just picked one genre and stuck with it. The main issue with this movie is the plot. Plotting constitutes the majority of this bloated film with flashbacks, flashbacks-within-flashbacks, bait-and-switches, as well as several elaborate heist sequences. It’s thick with plot conceits, action, and intrigue. What it’s particularly thin on is character.
The character work in this movie comes across as vapid. They’re stand-alone scenes offering little insight into the Den of Thieves this movie follows. Watching 50 Cent intimidate his daughter’s prom date is funny sure, but it doesn’t tell us why he’s a thief. Ditto for all the other leads. Gerard Butler’s the only character we learn any backstory (which, as a side plot failed utterly to add to the film as a whole.) In fact, half the joy of this movie is watching Gerard Butler destruct over time. I feel like they just wound Gerard Butler up and watched him go. He’s ominous in everything. I get the whole “bad cop, good criminal” motif, but I’m supremely disappointed I don’t know why they commit crimes.
The good news is: the movie does not lack in literal firepower. Gunfights drag on through the course until the final end scene feels like a badly edited montage of bullet effects a la “The Expendables” (1-3 take your pick.) I mean, sure, it’s cool on some cognitive level to watch a man literally mount a machine gun and fire endlessly at police, but we have to ask ourselves: What’s the point?
I cared so little about both sides of this “war” that I ignored the bullets. Ironically, the movie lifts when it shows us glimpses into the characters’ lives. What’s O’Shea Jackson like tending a bar? Why does 50 Cent steal money if he lives in a nice house with a quaint family? Why hasn’t Gerard Butler’s wife left him earlier? All questions I lack an answer to, but I can tell you gunfights took up approximately a quarter of the film.
With swooping kinetic photography, the movie races through its runtime. When it’s working, time flies, but when the pace slows down to accompany the action, we start to feel time unravel. A forgettable soundtrack adds nothing to this movie. By the time we get to the heist part of the film we’re too deep in criminal cop-killing to really enjoy the fun of it. If you liked movies like “The Town” or “The Untouchables,” then this is up your darkened alley, otherwise, move on. There are more important movies to watch with less fetishistic worship of guns.