Coming to Blu-ray/DVD from writer/director Christian Gudegast, STX Entertainment and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment is truly a “Den of Thieves.”
In the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department there is a team of wild cops led by Big Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler). You see, Nick isn’t the kind to just sit by and let crime run rampant in the city. He may be a sharp cop but not to smart when it comes to his own home life, which is falling apart. When strange heists hit the city, they grab Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) to find out who is responsible.
Getting him to talk takes a little persuasion, but Donnie tells them about Merrimen and his gang, which includes Enson Levoux (Curtis Jackson), and any detail he can think of. That leads them to a quietly disturbing mastermind in Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber). He also isn’t the kind to sit by and not be a part of planning a massive crime.
The game of cat and mouse begins when the two leaders come face to face to test the waters as each flexes in his own way. As Nick and the boys meticulously go over plans to catch Merrimen and his boys at their next heist, Merrimen and his boys are meticulously going over plans for a heist that even the L.A. County Sheriff’s couldn’t have seen coming.
When they finally come face to face, backing down doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary!
I had the amazing opportunity to speak with writer/director Christian Gudegast about what inspired him to write the script, the amazing cast and making it all go from page to screen. Gudegast is responsible for films such as “London has Fallen,” “A Man Apart” and is the executive producer for the documentary “Sequestro.”
Jeri Jacquin: Let’s jump right in. My big question is where did you come up with this storyline?
Christian Gudegast: Wow, it was a combination of a lot of things. It was going back to wanting to make crime films, and there are so many stories I want to tell about that world. Also, there are people that the characters are based upon and a series of bank robberies in a book my friend wrote about the most successful crew in Los Angeles called the Hole-in-the-Ground gang. Merrimen and his crew are based on them, and the heists you see in the film are based on the actual heists that went down.
They were never caught and got away with hundreds of millions of dollars. They have a legendary status within the law enforcement community in Los Angeles. Gerard Butler’s character, Big Nick, is also based on a friend of mine. So all of it is the basis for the story I’m telling in the film under one roof.
JJ: It was interesting to me how you had these two brotherhoods going on at the same time. For you, was that difficult to take from your brain to the page to the screen?
CG: Yes, in a sense that film production is extremely difficult, and, no, because it’s always what I wanted to do. The cast and crew who read the script bought into the concept so it was about not judging any one character and treating everyone like a human being and understanding motivations. It is seeing how they are all affected by that life from both sides.
The reality of crime is that it’s one business with different players — it’s a world unto itself. Both sides know each other and went to high school, have the same clothes, grew up on the streets, sometimes dated the same girl — so there is a mutual understanding and respect to the two sides and to me that is fascinating. It is amazing to explore that.
JJ: You are right. The interaction between the two group’s dances on a delicate line and one minuscule step can change so much.
CG: That’s exactly right. Every step of the way, even the individual characters, I had technical advisers. I had real gangsters, real cops and ex-military with boot camps and the actors were there two months before training very hard and drilled down. We took into consideration what they wore, how they walked and talked and it was all very specific. Everyone bought into it and the result is on the Blu-ray.
JJ: The casting — as you wrote this did you specifically have these actors in mind?
CG: Aside from Gerard Butler and then Curtis Jackson, no. It was all part of the process. Everyone in the film I was aware of beforehand, but it was really about myself and casting director John Papsidera, who is a genius.
We both wanted the cast to be authentic. I didn’t want to recognize every person in the story. I know there was to be some but the cast had to be real. There is actually a lot of real people in the film and we mixed that with the actors. We did a lot of rehearsal until it felt natural. In the casting, we made sure it was who we wanted and sometimes had 100 to 150 audition for a role, we were obsessive about it. We wanted the perfect person, even if they didn’t have a line, we were obsessed with finding the right person.
JJ: I have to say that Pablo basically scared me crazy. He has that look about him and doesn’t have to say a word. It’s like you want to slink away to get out of his line of sight.
CG: (laughing) Yes, Pablo is a spectacular dude, and he is one of the most disciplined, prepared and talented actors I’ve ever come across. The guy is an animal! He is extremely intelligent, and he does his work. He really got into character by getting his body trained a very specific way, he spent a ton of time on the range shooting and just got into the mode of playing Merrimen. He is a genius.
JJ: His character is a beast. I was fascinated, maybe even more so than Gerard Butler’s character. I was drawn to his thought process.
CG: I will be working with Pablo quite a bit, so you will have ample opportunity to get to know him more.
JJ: That’s extremely cool, and I’m OK with that. Let’s talk about Curtis “Fifty Cent” Jackson. His role is that of a guy who knows what he’s going to do and is connected to Merrimen totally.
CG: Also his character is based on a real person. When I met Curtis, I knew he was one of those guys that is immediately intimidating. He doesn’t have to do or say anything and doesn’t need to be the leader. Merrimen never moved on from the military mindset and doesn’t have a family, whereas Levoux has a family and he starts showing some cracks because he has something to live for.
JJ: By the way, the daughter going to the prom scene was very good!
CG: Yes, it was.
JJ: Of course, there is Gerard Butler and could you have made his arms any bigger?
CG: Yes, he was pretty determined and played a lot of characters where he had to be fit. He put a lot into being Big Nick, and I think this is the biggest he’s been in his life. He really worked on getting his look, and it paid off for his character.
JJ: His character, it’s like at any second he could snap.
CG: Yes, correct, that’s the whole point. He has this intensity and he had to look jacked.
JJ: Big Nick is also the kind of leader where his crew might not always agree, but they certainly have his back.
CG: Yes, you wouldn’t believe what these guys have to do to tell the story. The stuff they do is pretty wild and to do that you have to be a certain kind of person. That’s real and the law enforcement community thought this was the most realistic portrayal they have seen. The public doesn’t always look at what the police do favorably because of things that have happened, but the reality is that cops come up against some very, very bad people.
JJ: It just shows what cops have to do to stop this kind of bad. I have to give you a shout out for having Cooper Andrews in the film. When I saw him, all I could think of was, “Oh my gosh, Jerry!”
CG: I have to say, Cooper is the man. He is such a gentle giant. He is a big strong boy and he is a wonderful actor. When we saw him we knew he was the character of Mac.
JJ: It was nice to see him outside the horrors of “The Walking Dead.”
CG: Exactly, he is amazing and is going to do a lot.
JJ: When people watch “Den of Thieves” on Blu-ray, what do you want them to take from it — besides the fact that it’s a great story?
CG: If they listen to the director commentary, that will be fun. Actually, the care we put into making the film, from the cast to crew, it became a labor of love for everybody. We had a phenomenal time making the film and it was an incredible experience. We went to great lengths to keep it authentic, as real as possible, emotion and honest. That was really the goal in everything that we did. We hope that people enjoy it again when they see it on Blu-ray.
JJ: All I can say is well played, sir! I enjoyed it immensely.
CG: Thank you Jeri, thank you very much.
My sincere thanks to Christian Gudegast for giving us the insight to “Den of Thieves,” which is more of an “us vs. them” leaving the audience to decide the rest. The intensity is definitely there and leaves little time to catch your breath. Butler leads the way as Big Nick, making damn sure that it all stops with his crew just as much as Schreiber’s character of Pablo feels the same way on the other side of the law.
Other cast include Meadow Williams as Holly, Maurice Compte as Borracho, Brian Van Holt as Murph Connors, Evan Jones as Bosco, Mo McRae as Gus Henderson, Kaiwi Lynam as Tony Z, Dawn Olivieri as Debbie, Eric Braeden as Ziggy, Jordan Bridges as Lobbin Bob and Cooper Andrews as Mack.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has just added an amazing film to their library and making it available for us all to experience and re-experience in our own home theatres. There are films of every genre available from scary to drama to family films. For more of what they have to offer, go to www.uphe.com.
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“Den of Thieves” Blu-ray and DVD Bonus Features include an “Alternate Ending,” “Alpha Males” — The cast describes how the tough characters in the film blur the lines between the good guys and the bad guys, “Into the Den” — Director Christian Gudegast and the cast describe the two brotherhoods within the film, the renegades and the outlaws and their unique set of skills, “Alameda Corridor” — The cast and director discuss filming the intense scene that takes place on the streets of L.A. and the extensive weapons training it took to film it, “Outtakes and Deleted Scenes,” “Commentary with Director Christian Gudegast and Producer Tucker Tooley,” “‘Den of Thieves’ Theatrical Cut” with an all-new, unrated version with never-before-seen footage.
The story is one filled with twists, turns and action that doesn’t stop to let you think too much. Instead, it is two hours and 20 minutes of intensity that dares you to come along for the ride, pulling us all from one side to the other. Find a comfy seat and turn on the sound bar for some serious action and characters that you have to see to believe.
In the end — giving up is not an option for either!