ComingSoon.net visits the Den of Thieves set
On a cold day in March, there are palm trees outside a defunct Atlanta bank. Production on the Los Angeles-set heist film Den of Thieves is set up in The A and they’re doing their best to make sure that the film looks authentic, a word that is thrown around constantly regarding the film’s treatment of its subjects: cops and robbers.
“In the entertainment world we traditionally see this glamorous view of plain clothes, undercover-type guys, that Miami Vice stereotype,” says technical consultant Jay Dobyns. “The Sonny Crocket in a Hugo Boss suit with a Lambo. The reality of it is it’s not sexy, it’s not glamorous, it’s a nasty, dirty, grimy, bloody, vomit-covered scab of a life.”
Dobyns has a long and storied career in federal law enforcement, including participation in over 500 undercover operations while working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives and whose expertise was used in federal investigations, including the likes of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, the Columbine High School massacre, the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, and most notably, the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang which he wrote about in his bestselling novel. He serves not only as a consultant on Den of Thieves but appears in the film.
“Real cops and robbers is kind of a game, and in this story and in certain real life cases, it becomes personal,” he says of the film and its characters. “I knew a lot of guys like this.”
The conceit of Den of Thieves isn’t the typical “cops and robbers” story. It shows the outcome of two characters played by Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber who find themselves on opposite ends of the street. Both of them grew up in the same high schools, played football for the same teams, and hung out with the same crowds, but somewhere one of them stepped left and the other stepped right.
“I was raised in LA and I grew up around all kinds of guys who became Navy seals, LAPD, SWAT, and a lot of my other friends became gangsters of different kinds,” says director Christian Gudegast. The first-time filmmaker has been developing Den of Thieves off and on for 12 years, penning the likes of F. Gary Gray’s A Man Apart and the Butler-starring action sequel London Has Fallen in the interim.
Though the film might appear to be about just two crews trying to “do their job,” it’s about the personal stories in them and how those two cross together.
“We’re turning the traditional good guys chasing the bad guys cop movie on its head completely,” says producer Tucker Tooley. “Because our good guys are just as bad as our bad guys and our bad guys have shades of good in them as well. So we’re blurring every possible line, even the romantic relationship lines in the movie.”
Gudegast goes on to say that even though one side has badges and the other doesn’t, there’s not much actual difference.
“The differences that separate them are virtually nothing and the other thing is if you talk to all of them, gangsters and cops, one doesn’t exist without the other. It’s like they’re part of the same business and industry and they feed off each other.”
One key difference between the two crews is how they’re being photographed for the film, and how that might be the inverse of what the audience is expecting. For the robbers, the camera is still and smooth, always on a dolly or tripod. Their movements as a crew are calculated and planned to the nth degree, they’re careful, and the visuals of the film reflect it. Gerard Butler’s crew of cops, on the other hand, is frenetic and wild, always filmed with handheld shots that never quite get that straight angle you might expect from a police presence.
Joining Pablo Schreiber’s merry men in the heists are Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and O’Shea Jackson Jr., playing former military men that have turned heel and are using their multi-million dollar special ops training to rob banks. Though they hit a few different banks in the course of the film, they have one major target in their sights: The Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.
“It’s about this incredibly hermetically-sealed world of the federal reserve bank, the challenge of trying to get into a place that no one has ever robbed,” Gudegast says.
The Federal Reserve in Los Angeles is the second-largest cash office in the Federal Reserve System, and since they serve the Las Vegas area they traffic in a lot of cash and operate 24 hours a day. Picture a room whose floors, walls and ceiling are made of see-through plexiglass, this room is the length of a football field, 60-feet wide, and two stories tall, loaded to the brim with cash boxes that are each filled with 40 million dollars… in cash. That’s the target.
The big heist may be the big event of the film, but the fallout from it will send the film into a new direction, Gudadast teases:
“It’s no more about (the heist) than it is about what happens afterward… when two sides clash on the streets.”
He goes on to call this climactic battle “Black Hawk Down of urban warfare.”
In the film, Schreiber’s character found himself enlisting in the military, working in special ops, and becoming a highly-trained soldier with a very special skill set. Gerard Butler’s Nick, on the other hand, landed in the Los Angeles County Police Department chasing the bad guys, going undercover, and working on the wrong side of the rules for some of it. So what happens when a soldier, whom the government spent countless dollars training to become a killer without being seen, is put up against a cop with compass that’s just as aimless? We can’t say, but you don’t want to be caught in those cross hairs.
Den of Thieves arrives in theaters on January 19.