From the time they can fashion a pistol out of their thumb and pointer finger, kids who play cops and robbers keep to a pretty simple formula: the cops are “good” and the robbers are “bad.” But it doesn’t take long for this facade to fade as adolescents have real life encounters with not-so-nice officers and meet people who steal to survive, not because it’s fun. It’s within this bumpy swath of gray that the bank heist film Den Of Thieves plays.
An elite squad of bank robbers is lead by chiseled military veteran Ray Merrimen (played by a perfectly steely Pablo Schreiber) with a wet behind the ears wheelman named Donnie (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Merrimen’s crew is under heavy surveillance by L.A. County Sheriff Big Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler), a walking 12-step candidate who isn’t above eating the donuts off a dead man.
Merrimen’s band of not-so-merry men (see what they did there?) are not trying to rob from the rich and give to the poor, they are in this for their own gain. Millions of dollars in paper money is going to be taken out of circulation and shredded, and they’d rather it go into their own pockets. But the zealous efforts of the police force blur the line of who is bending the law and who is breaking it.
“Our movie, it blends. There’s definitely the gray area of what’s going on,” says O’Shea. “There’s not all the way good, there’s not all the way bad. I think that helps it stay real and helps you sympathize for the criminals because they’re real people. There’s no right or wrong in our movie and it gives it its authenticity.”
Through careful exposition, viewers are given slices of the characters lives designed to humanize them and make them harder to anticipate.
“The whole set up is you have these guys that served their country, had military service, went over and on coming back from their deployment had an incredibly specific skillset that they had no idea what to with and where to use its,” says Schreiber. “And because of life choices and circumstances used [their skills] for things they probably shouldn’t have used it for. Then on the cop side of things, you have people who are supposed to be enforcing the law, but they’ll break the law to enforce the law. And so the scales kind of balance out in that way…So we end up having a poster that you can flip upside down and have the robbers on top.”
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson plays Levi Enson, one of the more likable criminals on Merrimen’s crew who employs some sometimes hilarious tough love tactics to keep his family out of trouble. He’s clearly got bad intentions, but lacks the menace of we’ve come to expect from him.
“My character has a family. People pardon you for doing those things when you play dark characters,” says 50. “In the Power series I play Kanan, who doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have a family attachment and it makes him the nemesis of the entire show because they’ve seen other people do more killing and do worse deeds. They forgive those characters because they see things within themselves, what they identify with a good person having. Then Gerard’s character has immersed himself in the work, the career. It’s to the point where law enforcement becomes criminal to combat criminals.”
If you’re in the mood for some “illin and rootin’ for the villain,” Den Of Thieves is out now and might be the flick for you.