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Review: Den of Thieves – “Bank heists? Check. Dog Day Afternoon style standoffs? Check. Drive levels of cool? Check.”

I tried to see Den of Thieves three times before I actually saw it. I won’t bore you with the details, but to say I had a strong urge to see it would be an understatement. To then say I was vindicated after seeing it the day my local Cineworld unceremoniously dumped it after a week is an understatement, too.

It’s one of those films that I’m sure will find a bigger audience during home viewing. Much like Triple 9 before it. This kind of film is attracting better and better casts nowadays, and Thieves is an example of how to take the best elements of the genre, and crank it right up.

I don’t have a preferred genre of film as such, but if I absolutely had to pick one, it would likely be crime. I love the way the genre can create characters who live in the grey areas of what they do. When I watched a documentary on Heat, and saw Pacino and Michael Mann talking about how Pacino’s character was doing cocaine in between the scenes we saw, I was fascinated. It explained why Shouty Al was so shouty – but also explained why Mann didn’t show any of those scenes, too. Pacino as Hanna is meant to be the good guy. Except the film allows him to be flawed. A Dad that cant give time to his Family. A husband married to the job.

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but Thieves lets Gerard Butler add this kind of depth to ‘Big Nick’ O’Brien. There’s a scene midway through when he breaks down in his car. Actual tears. I couldn’t believe it. Not only as someone who generally can’t stand Butler – but also as someone who loves this genre, and knows how risky it is to show this kind of emotion through its heroes.

In another scene, Butler visits his wife at a dinner party. It’s a great scene – showing again his character’s dependency on alcohol – but also the fact he’s always on edge. And one decision away from self-destruction. It adds an unease to Thieves, and means you’re never quite sure how it will end.

Could Butler end up laying prostrate, in his dying breathes, next to Pablo Schreiber’s fantastic villain? Maybe under the nightlights of LAX? Absolutely. You’re always thinking the film will take bold decisions. You can tell, I loved it. And right up to the final scene, I wasn’t sure what direction it was going to take.

Schreiber is sensational, to be fair. Every inch the physical match to Butler – he’s superb. You always feel like he’s a threat, and he’s smart enough to warrant your respect as a villain. He ain’t ever going back.

What Thieves does incredibly well too, is be respectful of what’s gone before it. It starts and you know instantly Heat is a clear reference point. I guess it has to be. But Thieves does a fantastic job of updating the types of people audiences want to see. So now we get 50 Cent looking like he’s Straight Out Of Compton, or straight out of GTAV. It’s superbly done. It feels like the kind of alternative to all the yawn-inducing people I’ve ever met who say “Heat is too long”.

Still want your rat-tat-tat shootouts? It’s got you covered. Including a fantastic street fight, straight out of Sicario. It’s got all bases covered.

Bank heists? Check. Dog Day Afternoon style stand offs? Check. Drive levels of cool? Check.

It knows it’s audience, and knows how demanding they are. It knows they’re going to want to dial the gun fights to eleven. And it knows they’re going to want to analyse any Usual Suspect style twists – and see how it stands up.

I can’t not mention O’Shea Jackson Jr. I’m quickly falling in love with this guy. I didn’t think he’d top his turn as Ice Cube, in Straight Outta Compton. Then he did the wonderful Ingrid Goes West. Now this. He’s a fantastic actor. He has the right mix of vulnerability when he’s faced with a vat of acid here – and also enough nous and street-smart to add value to this team.

Great, great cast. Even Fifty – who gets to top Will Smith’s prom night speech to his daughter’s date. Again, my kind of tribute.

I’m not surprised a sequel has already been greenlit. They’ve created a world where I’d happily spend another few hours with the characters.

Get Val Kilmer in as Shiherlis, and Pacino as Lt Vincent Hanna and I’m there with bells on. It’s a shared universe. And we’re safer on this side of the screen. Especially as Butler didn’t bring his cuffs.

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