“Den of Thieves is just like Heat!


(No, it is not. End of essay, right?)


This is a common descriptor for Den of Thieves, and I’ve often wondered if it started through some marketing algorithm, like how everyone repeated “The Batman is going to be a detective noir” for weeks after the first trailer dropped, or how Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings had everyone saying “this is Disney’s wuxia film” or The Mandalorian is always accompanied by keywords like “spaghetti western” or “Lone Wolf and Cub.”

Because the similarities between Den of Thieves and Heat are facile at best. Den lifts scenes directly from Heat  (e.g., the cop confronting his ex-wife and her lover; the street gunfight; the knowing final moment between the main cop and thief) while not importing any of the stuff that made those scenes resonate. So yes, zooming out to the maximum distance, the two films are about thieves and the cops chasing them. That description fits roughly one million stories told after 1995. “Den of Thieves is just like The Town,” maybe?

Heat’s longevity is in its cold-blue aesthetics, its haggard working-class characters, and in the ways that commitment to these jobs wrecks the hell out of your personal life. Gerald Butler’s thirty-bracelet, beer bloat cop Nick is a piece of shit and separately a cop. The scene where he terrorizes his ex-wife at her dinner party is the act of a shit human. The fact that he’s a cop is his get-out-of-jail free card once the scene escalates… it is not why his relationship fell apart.

Compare this to Vincent Hanna, who struggles to keep his relationship going because he is often late and when he’s home, he’s thinking about his job. But he cares about his wife and stepdaughter and the movie puts in work to show their attempts at maintaining a balance. All of the characters are like this in Heat… it’s kinda the point. In Den of Thieves, we get no interiority to anyone beyond that cringe scene where the thieves all terrify 50 Cent’s daughter’s boyfriend. There’s a red herring of interiority with O’Shea Jackson’s character Donnie, as we are led to believe that he’s struggling to get ahead in the world up to the moment where we learn that he’s actually a veteran con man and everything he said and did throughout the movie was merely a ruse. What a cheap plot twist.

I dunno. I’m not going to litigate this any further. It was probably just a marketing plan or a quote from a critic that ended up as the movie’s legacy. Den of Thieves is fun at rare times, mostly scenes with Pablo Schreiber (the one good actor in this film) or Gerry B hamming it up (the heir to Michael Douglas’ slimeball throne). It is genuinely enjoyable during the big heist. Conversely, Heat is Heat, one of the great crime thrillers and a three-hour ode to how extreme devotion to personal philosophy leaves no room for anything else. So cops-vs-robbers is insufficient overlap to justify the “Den of Thieves is just like Heat!” bromide.

I mention this because I want to talk about how we talk and engage with humans and ideas in a world warped by social media, because this weighs on my mind with every conversation I have in-person or online. We’ve internalized so much advertising and clickbait that it feels like the 1990s again, where some people care a lot and other people think that it is lame to care about anything. The social media trend of quote-tweeting / dunking on / dragging (whatever you care to call it) is a manifestation of this impulse, and it is explicit that the best way to engage with other ideas is to dismiss them with a curt “LOL NO.”

A quick aside. I’m working out my shit as I write these things, if it isn’t obvious. Part of my mission statement for writing on this site was that I’d only write about things that I enjoy. The first few months were a wide array of odes to all manner of movies (streaming recommendations; all-time-favorites; classics that I’m introducing to another person; awards season darlings; etc.). This 40 Movies About series started with a goal à la Rob Gordon of making a playlist that summarized my life. But I detoured from that out of necessity, as it was hard finding a movie for each year that would generate a life-adjacent memory worth discussing. So if I’ve become preachy as I’m reaching the goal line, my apologies. It’s hard to make it to age 40 and not be a little preachy. We’ll be back to things which provide joy with the new year.

Summary dismissal of topics can be a good thing, as we don’t need to waste our emotional energy on lazy clickbait claiming that “maybe Tony Soprano wasn’t a good guy!” (I searched for the Screen Rant article in question but it received so much dunking via social media that they deleted the article. LOL) There is a difference between seeing something that prompts a thoughtful response and something that is there to deliberately and only inflame. But I want to be better at seeing the difference. Simply put, I don’t want to get set in my ways. If something new comes along that is worth experiencing, I should have the latitude to do so. I’m terrified to become an old yinzer who shuffles to the store for scratch-offs and the same groceries every week, and gives a derisive snort to new music, new authors, new movies, new anything.

I quit my job and started taking programming classes became I could feel myself crystallizing. The same lunch from The Pretzel Shop or the gas station, the same afternoon trips to the vending machine for caffeine and a treat, the same daily tasks and daily commute as my waistline got bigger and my shell got thicker and everything around me got a little dimmer.

These are typical midlife crisis tropes. Hell, I even stopped shaving my head and am taking one last stab at growing it out before it’s gone (sorry in advance for the skullet, Natalie). But reflection and change don’t have to be negative, regardless of one’s age. Because there is a second way to look at the midlife crisis. These feelings are happening because something isn’t working, and this is not a person railing at their lost youth so much as realigning how one will traverse the next 40 years. Figure out what it is that is causing the stress. Maybe it is something small, like the location of the fridge in the kitchen. Or medium, like shutting yourself off from new experiences because routines equal stability. Or maybe it’s large, like a relationship or career path that is not working. I do not advocate that anyone change their life on a whim or the advice of a weird old perv like me. But reflect on the source of unease and see how one can mitigate it, even a little.

But “Den of Thieves is just like Heat?”   LOL NO


Other 2018 candidates: Halloween


I turn 40 in December. To commemorate the milestone, I’m writing 40 short biographical essays pertaining to a movie per year of my life.