DEN OF THIEVES (Christian Gudegast). 136 minutes. Opens Friday (January 19). See listing. Rating: NN
Den Of Thieves, the directorial debut of screenwriter Christian Gudegast, wants very much to be a modern-day Heat. I do not blame it. Heat is a hell of a movie, a film anyone would be proud to make.
But Gudegast, whose previous credits include the forgotten Vin Diesel thriller A Man Apart and the godawful Gerard Butler vehicle London Has Fallen, has not made a modern-day Heat. The idea is the same, and the production values are similarly slick, but everything else that made Michael Mann’s film a modern classic is missing. Den Of Thieves falls well short of the high bar Mann set when he positioned Robert De Niro and Al Pacino against one another as a high-powered bank robber and the L.A. detective obsessed with bringing him to justice.
Gudegast casts Pablo Schreiber, of Orange Is The New Black and Michael Bay’s Benghazi movie 13 Hours, in the De Niro role of the ice-cold criminal, and Butler (who I suspect agreed to this out of sheer goodwill on the London Has Fallen set) as the cop so committed to the job that his family is sliding away from him. Neither actor is allowed to do much more than glower, in scene after scene Gudegast sees them as action figures rather than characters, completely missing Heat’s focus on relationships and connections.
He just wants to juice up Mann’s playbook with brooding drone shots and a beefy, bearded tough-guy aesthetic cribbed from Sons Of Anarchy and Sicario. (Denis Villeneuve was out to subvert that aesthetic, undercutting it with Josh Brolin’s flip-flops and Benicio Del Toro’s flashes of empathy Gudegast embraces it so thoroughly you can imagine him agonizing over which dudebro T-shirt each of his background players should wear.)
The second unit does admirable work staging a climactic heist sequence and shootout… but it’s kind of a grind getting there, since Gudegast lacks Mann’s intuitive visual language and facility with actors. Only O’Shea Jackson Jr., as a getaway driver who gets tied up with both crews, really pops here, but even he winds up getting sold out by the script.
You know what? Heat’s a great movie that totally holds up. Go watch it again.