5 ideas about a movie: Den of Thieves

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to review of the most January movie ever. Yes, I know it’s already February but January is more than just a month, it’s a whole separate genre of movies. This is Den of Thieves.

IMDb summary: A gritty crime saga which follows the lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank.

  1. Den of Thieves was directed by Christian Gudegast from the script by Gudegast himself and Paul Scheuring. The duo has worked on various projects before. Gudegast is probably best known for writing London Has Fallen, while Scheuring is responsible for creating the TV show Prison Break. Their work on this film was a mixed bag. The film was directed competently enough (especially for a first-time feature director) but the writing was just a steaming pile of cliches and recycled ideas.
  2. Let’s start with the characters. Den of Thieves attempted to pin to equally awful sides against one another: the criminals (who first were shown as having some kind of an honor code which didn’t stick for long) and the unlawful police officers (who were literally introduced while eating donuts – such a cliche). For the first act of the picture, the movie decided to have an interview+flahbacks structure that was instantly dropped as soon as the set-up was finished. Then, the movie went into more of a confrontation-type of a plot, rather than an investigation story. This type of direct relationship between the two groups would have made for a great story if it weren’t so convoluted. Den of Thieves really tried going for the elaborate and turned out confused (even the titles appearing on screen were convoluted as both the names of characters, the names of places and the times were all flashed on screen).
  3. In addition, for the movie that picked direct confrontation as its narrative structure, it really lacked actual action scenes. All of the action was crammed into the last 30 minutes of the film and I wish there was more of it in the preceding 1.5h. For an old-school actioner, Den of Thieves was surprisingly action-less. The movie also should have explained more of its twist and turns as to make it more engaging throughout. The final reveal was quite good but it came way too late for me to have carried.
  4. Two ideas in the script that I found quite interesting and worthy of mention were 1)the way to enter a gang and 2)the position of bars as neutral grounds. The fact that sport or the military are the only two points of acceptance on the street was fascinating. It really drew attention to what is valued in terms of male identity in the criminal world. Also, the portrayal of a bar as a cesspool of information was spot-on (this comes from somebody who has worked behind the counter and provided basically free therapy for customers).
  5. The film assembled quite a good cast of B-listers. Gerard Butler (Geostorm) was half of a cartoon, half of the real person as the main ‘bad cop’. Inexplicably, he also had a family on the side (cause even when Butler plays a twat, he has to have a family. He is the Scottish Liam Neeson, basically). American God’s Pablo Schreiber played the main villain of the film and was good. It took me forever to recognize the actor without the ginger hair and bear of Mad Sweeney, though. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) played the mediator between the two groups and was great too. He was also the only one to have some sort of a character arc. A bunch of others actors rounded up the cast but as they had almost nothing to do, I don’t see the point to mention them. Also, as Den of Thieves was mostly just a fest of traditional masculinity, it had a total zero of female characters.

 

In short, Den of Thieves was an okay action movie that should have had more action and fewer cliches.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Den of Thieves trailer

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Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another January release. This time around, it’s 12 Strong!

IMDb summary: 12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down for the Taliban.

Writing

12 Strong – a biographical action drama – was written by Ted Tally (adapted The Silence of the Lambs all those years ago) and Peter Craig (wrote both parts of Mockingjay and the upcoming Robin Hood and Top Gun 2), based on the non-fiction book ‘Horse Soldiers’ by a journalist Doug Stanton. Overall, the film’s script was very much ‘by the books’ but it also had a couple of original and unique ideas.

The movie’s set-up was typical. It included: a reminder that 9/11 happened (and simultaneously situated this film in a the war on terrorism timeline), a couple of scenes with the family members of the soldiers (and no other character development, except maybe a few bonding scenes with the other soldiers), and a single scene to introduce the villain (and honestly, his actions in the said scene were so despicable that that one scene was enough).

The ideas, which I found original, were few but present. I really liked the warlord’s speech about the difference between a warrior and a soldier. I’ve always thought about these two words as synonyms that meant the same, but, now, I see that they do slightly differ in the reasons for fighting (whether for survival or as a job). The warlord’s (whose beliefs were presented as very Western – was that an authentic feature or did the filmmakers wanted to make him more sympathetic to the Western audiences?) concluding statement, about the US becoming just another tribe in the Middle East rung very true, knowing the events that followed the ones of depicted in this picture. I really wish that the movie had more of a ‘looking back’ perspective like the one expressed in that monologue. Lastly, some questions that this movie (like all the others of this genre) raised but didn’t necessarily answer, for me personally, were: how do the followers of Islam balance their own culture and the human rights (that’s mostly a women right’s question that is interpreted wrongly by some Muslims)? And how can the West help that region achieve freedom and peace without imposing Westernization upon them?

Directing

12 Strong was directed by Nicolai Fuglsig – Danish filmmaker and photojournalist. This was his American film debut and he certainly didn’t do a bad job. Action/terrorism movies are a hard sell and they only really capture the audiences’ atention when they have some awards backing (e.g. The Hurt Locker or, more recently, American Sniper). Fuglsig’s picture didn’t have any big names attached (Hemsworth is only a draw if he is Thor) and it’s coming out in an unfortunate month. Still, the film was quite okay. The shoot-outs were well constructed and intense. The movie aslo did a good job of visualizing the new kind of warfare by showing the choppers in the clouds and the combat on horseback combat.

 

Acting

12 Strong assembled a cast, full of quite well-known actors. Leading them was Chris Hemsworth (Thor 3, The Huntsman, Ghostbusters, In The Heart of The Sea, Avengers 2). He was joined by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Nocturnal Animals), another Marvel family member Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty, The Lego Ninjago, Murder on the Orient Express), and the up-and-coming Trevante Rhodes (who got everytbody’s attention with Moonlight and will soon appear in The Predator). A bunch of other actors played the other 8 (of the titular 12) soldiers but, as they didn’t really have a character arc, I don’t see the neccesity to mention them. Navid Negahban played the warlord ally of the American troops: he has played a similar role before multiple times. His next project is a bit different, though – he will be the Sultant in next year’s live-action Alladin.

In short, 12 Strong was a mediocre and by-the-numbers action/drama with some good performances and a few intersting ideas.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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Movie review: The Commuter

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the first actual 2018 movie – The Commuter.

IMDb summary: A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.

Lately, we have been getting quite a few train based movies, like The Girl on The Train and Murder on the Orient Express. While those two films were adaptations of beloved books, The Commuter is an original action film that doesn’t look like it exists purely to start another franchise. Still, it’s a Liam Neeson actioner that is coming out in January, so lower your expectations.

Writing

The Commuter was written by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle and for the first half of the movie, I thought that this trio was on to something. To begin with, the premise for the train-based movie was inherently intriguing. There is something fascinating about the limited space, the constant movement while being stuck in one place, and the community of people that the daily commuters make up. Also, the script did a good job of setting up the main character – the opening sequence set up his daily routine highly effectively, while the ex-cop plotline worked to explain and justify his abilities, which were displayed throughout the film. The kickstart to the character’s quest/puzzle was kinda riddled with lucky coincidences but it still worked. The film even hinted that it was going to say something profound about human behavior. And then everything went sideways.

The more the film tried to explain its plot, the more convoluted it became. The narrative turned out to be a much ‘larger’ but I really wish that the script would have stuck to the train’s space and tried to make a self-contained story within it. The intensity and the thriller-like vibes were soon lost and replaced by a straight up action film tone. The over-the-top explosions scene was unnecessary, story-wise. The fact that the movie continued after it was also confusing. Lastly, the ending was very much ‘so neat, it only turns out this way in movies’ type of an ending. Oh, and the human behavior message – I had no idea what it was.

Directing

The Commuter was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. He was responsible for 2016’s summer’s surprise hit The Shallows and has also worked with Liam Neeson before on some actioners. I thought that he did a really good job with the first part of the film (that part that had good writing). The opening sequence was an effective visual set up and the pacing and intensity were really good for the first 45 minutes. Then the movie started to drag a bit and didn’t really know which direction it was going. The CGI explosion was too long, messy, and cheaply looking (though, honestly, I’ve seen more expensive films that looked worse, *cough, cough*, Justice League). The majority of the action as well as the dialogue scenes were filmed in close-ups, which made sense for the limited space, but also made the movie feel a tiny bit claustrophobic. Lastly, the conclusion of the picture went on for too long. It should have wrapped up sooner.

Acting

The Commuter, for better or for worse, was a Liam Neeson show and he was good in it. This is the seasoned action star’s signature role, so he could probably do it in his sleep. However, he always looks like he is actually trying hard and is not just winging it.

 

On the supporting front, a whole bunch of moderately known actors appeared. Vera Farmiga (The Judge) played the mysterious and promising ‘villain’, but her story went nowhere. Patrick Wilson had the ‘bait and switch’ role and was fine in it. Jonathan Banks (Mudbound, Better Call Saul) and Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) appeared in roles that didn’t deserve them, while Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern and Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman (Breathe) played Liam Neeson’s character’s family.

In short, The Commuter was an okay film, with a promising beginning and an underwhelming ending. Not a bad one for January, though.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Commuter trailer

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