I was pleasantly surprised to see that Den of Thieves is a better than average crime drama. Unfortunately, choosing machismo posturing over plausibility cause it to lose the tension that this film so desperately needs, which would have caused it to be something so much more. But with a top-notch audio track and great video transfer, Den of Thieves proves to be Worth A Look.
As far back as I can remember, I always loved a good crime drama. From loving Dick Tracy as a child to being enthralled with Heat as an adult, though my taste in the genre has changed my love for the genre has remained tried and true. Some of my favorite scenes of all time come from Heat, like the coffee shop scene with Pacino and De Niro, or the bank shootout on the California streets. Unfortunately, there has been a drought of good crime films this past decade or so, and even though the decks were stacked against Den of Thieves, I had hoped it would at least hold me over until one with a more notable cast list came along.
Beginning with its opening shootout, director Christian Gudegast shows he understands how to film a shootout in a way that feels visceral and tactile, though not as good as the best of the genre. Pablo Schreiber's character of Ray is excellent as the leader of this band of criminals. He is the perfect mixture of calm and collected, while still coming across dangerous and in charge. He has recruited a mostly intelligent group of criminals to help pull off his heist to top all heists. With the exception of 50 Cent's character, everyone has their own unique role in the caper, giving the feeling that they are integral to pulling it off. Not least of which is getaway driver Ronnie Wilson (O’Shea Jackson), who gets caught in the middle of both sides, criminal and cop, and has the moral dilemma of where his allegiance lies. All of these are generally good conflicts, and the film works best when concentrating on Ray and his crew.
And, of course, we have to have the Pacino archetype here. That comes in the form of “detective” ‘Big Nick’ O’Brian. Detective is in air-quotes because he just so happens to be one of the worst detectives to ever grace the big screen. From his introductory scene (ripped straight out of Heat) where he is going over the crime scene, it is like they took every L.A. cop stereotype, put it in an oven, and baked until burnt to an inedible crisp. He’s a down on his luck, alcoholic, deadbeat husband cop who hires hookers to a hotel room just to keep up the façade that he is a recluse. And Butler doesn’t do his character any favors either. To say he plays the character broad and over the top is an understatement. Every interaction he has in the film is met with the most over the top, machismo response so that it becomes comical.
Speaking of comedy, the so-called "detective" work in Den of Thieves is so obvious it makes Inspector Clouseau seem brilliant. I mean there is a scene here where Ray and his crew are with their families at a teppanyaki restaurant, and Nick decides to show up, blow his and someone else's cover, and draw attention to the fact that he is on to them in the most obnoxious way. In another scene, Nick literally decides it’s a good idea to seduce and then sleep with Ray's wife, just to have an awkward stare down when Ray comes home. The perfect analogy for Nick's detective work is this: imagine if Colombo was actually as dumb as he let on before he entrapped his suspect. That is Nick's detective level here. But not only is he a bad detective, but he also is a pretty terrible person and hard to root for. In the end, Den of Thieves is like that grease-filled cheesy bread you get at your local pizza shops. It isn't what you should be consuming, and it might even kill you, but it tastes delicious and does its job just fine.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Universal brings Den of Thieves to Blu-ray in standard fashion with slipcover to hardcover casing. Enclosed is a BD-50 Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD code. Surprisingly, there are no trailers to be seen here. We are brought straight to the main menu, where we are allowed to select the theatrical or unrated version from there.
Den of Thieves puffs out its chest and postures on Blu-ray, giving us a 1080p MPEG-4 encode that definitely flexes its muscles when it needs to. Framed at a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, this was all shot digitally with an Arri Alexa camera and boasts a 2K DI. Right from the opening heist, we are greeted with a great amount of detail despite the intentionally underlit night scene. Black levels continue to be impressive, especially in darker scenes like these, making great use of the Arri Alexa’s capabilities. In lighter daylight scenes, rays of sunlight have a yellow hue to them providing an engaging visual dynamic. There is a healthy amount of digital grain that looks to be done in post for a more gritty effect, but never does it subtract from the clarity of the image. I did notice a marginal amount of aliasing around background elements in a few scenes. By and large, I would say this is the most subdued portion of a film that in all other areas takes a more boisterous tack, which is much appreciated.
Den of Thieves assaults your home theater with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that is a true show stopper. I have already expressed my love for the bank shootout in Heat. Much of that has to do with the expert audio design done in that film. Thieves recreates that same exhilarating sound design during the shootouts. Every bullet fires off with a shocking crack that echoes through the sound field. Rarely do I hear visceral impact on this level, and when I do, it is music to this audiophile's ears. The score is presented throughout the fronts, through the LFE track, into the surrounds. Dialogue is crystal clear, with generous levels throughout. This is an extremely aggressive, bombastic track that is sure to become demo material for this reviewer's collection.
Audio Commentary – This is only available for the theatrical version. The director and producer come back for a marginally informative audio track. I do like my commentaries a little more technical than this, but this is the place to hear them talk about the action moments in the film.
Alpha Males (HD 2:06) - Need a deeper look at the machismo men in this film? This is a shallow look at the lead characters.
Into the Den (HD 2:06) - A needless and all too brief run through of the plot.
Alameda Corridor (HD 3:13) - The final shootout here is pure adrenalized action. This is an all too short look at what made this scene possible.
Outtakes (HD 23:22) - Den of Thieves is a film that already overstays its welcome. This collection of extended and deleted scenes would make this almost three hours long. That is way too long for a film like this and they were rightfully cut.
Theatrical Trailer #1 (HD 2:32)
Theatrical Trailer #2 (HD 2:22)
Den of Thieves can be an obnoxiously machismo film. It goes out of its way for macho posturing, in detriment to plausibility. Gerard Butler does turn in a terribly clichéd, over the top performance that I am still laughing at as we speak. But beyond that are characters that are deeper than they seem on the surface. The heist is well thought out. And the action in the film stands toe to toe with the most kinetic action scenes out there today. Throw in a good video transfer and a stellar audio mix and you get a release that is definitely Worth A Look.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.