Den of Thieves set visit

Heading into the Den of Thieves set visit, I was mostly thinking about Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. While leaving the Den of Thieves set visit, I was still mostly thinking about Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. The artist, entrepreneur, Vitaminwater moneymaker, and actor was a lot more entertaining and honest than (understandably) some actors tend to be speaking with bloggers on sets. Like most of the cast, he was enjoying himself in Atlanta, Georgia, during a day of filming of the upcoming crime thriller, which stars Gerard Butler as a hulking L.A.P.D cop chasing down a crew of robbers.

Jackson plays Levi Enson, one of the criminals planning to rob the Federal Reserve in Downtown Los Angeles, and as his fine associate Merrimen (American God‘s Pablo Schreiber) points out in the trailer, the Federal Reserve Bank contains anywhere between $500 to $800 billion dollars at a time. One of the many obstacles facing the team, which also includes O’Shea Jackson Jr. (who was fantastic in Ingrid Goes West) and Evan Jones (8 Miles), is Nick “Big Nick” Flanagan (Butler), “a good guy fucked up in a lot of dark ways,” according to Butler, who has a refreshing and extremely rare sense of humor about some of his movies.

The French Connection, Heat, and The Town (a title dropped more than once on the set) are definitely in the sandbox of writer and first-time director Christian Gudegast (London Has Fallen). Gudegest grew up in Los Angeles around cops, Navy Seals, and LAPD officers, but some of his other friends went down a different path. “What’s always interested me with the classic movies with good guys and bad guys, the reality is that’s not what it is,” Gudegast told us. “It’s far more fascinating to me that they’re basically the same kind of dude, and the way life worked for them – maybe one grew up without a dad or got in trouble in High School – they just barely go to the other side. The differences that separate them are virtually nothing.”

den of thieves set visit

Making the Impossible Kind of Possible

While this is not based on a true story, the filmmaker, who also wrote the ridiculously enjoyable London Has Fallen, did base his story on a real plan that was hatched but never completed. “We had to fill in the blanks,” Gudegast explained. “We worked with people at the Federal Reserve and said, ‘How do you make the impossible kind of possible?’ We made it as real as we possibly could. Could you really do it? Probably not. In the world of movies? Yeah, you can.” To make the heist more plausible on-screen, staying close to the truth and the world being depicted was a driving force on the project. Consultants from the military and the LAPD and the former head of the Hell’s Angels – and an ATF cop who took on the Hell’s Angels – worked on the film to help the director and his stars create a sense of authenticity.

While Gudegast was inspired by To Live and Die in LA, Heat, Jackie Brown, and Un prophète, he was more interested in the reality than how the genre paints it. From the tattoos the cops have to the cars they drive to the clothes and even shoes they wear, he wanted to get everything right. “I love Heat, it’s an incredible film, but the world of Heat doesn’t exist,” he claimed. “It’s very stylized. This is the real world. The Chicano experience was covered with End of Watch, Training Day, and the black experience was covered with Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, and Straight Outta Compton. But that part of the world – the mix of everything – has not really been covered accurately. That’s what we’re going to do here.” For Gudegast, the shoot was about “authenticity all day long,” because the “truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s much more fascinating than fiction.”

Den of Thieves

No Glitz and Glamour 

One of the highlights of the visit was speaking with a retired undercover operative, Jay Dobyns, whose crew was an inspiration for Big Nick and his team. “From my experience, the reality of it is not sexy, not glamorous,” he told us. “It’s a nasty, dirty, grimy, bloody, vomit-covered scab of a life. When I went into it, I thought it was Miami Vice, but I realized quickly it was nothing like that.” During his 27 years on the job, he knew “very, very few people who did that job with a Rolex and drove a fancy car,” but knew characters like Big Nick’s crew “on the hustle” and “pushing the limits of everything they do.”

Dobyns helped run the show for two separate boot camps, one for the criminals and one for the cops. As Gudegast said, sometimes the two opposite sides of the law share something in common, but according to the consultant, that’s a part of what makes some cops stay ahead. “I think the best plainclothes cops and undercover cops were walking a fence at one point in their lives and could’ve fallen on the bad guy side of the fence but fell on the good guy side of the fence,” he said. “Those guys are so good, because they understand the mentality of the adversary, think like bad guys, and anticipate like bad guys. You see that with these guys, with our characters.” With these characters, he wants them to be instantly recognizable to those who’ve lived this life, so they can see the movie and go, “‘That’s how we look, that’s how we talked, that’s how we acted.'” If that’s how members of law enforcement respond to the movie, then Dobyns will know he did his job.

The consultant – who’s worked everything from hand-to-hand street narcotic transactions to infiltrating crime syndicates and more – knows the frustration of watching phony depictions of the force. “We look at films and go, ‘They didn’t get that right,'” he said. “We’re trying to eliminate that as much as possible. It’s still a movie, and we still need to make it entertaining….I told these actors, ‘You guys make more money working on a film in two months than I make in 20 years, doing the job for real. Here’s the difference: I don’t get to repeat a line. When I’m working undercover, I have to get it right the first time. I don’t get a second take. If I fuck up my line, I’m going to get a baseball bat on the back of my head. And the people I’m dealing with, they’re holding real guns with real bullets…You don’t get to get shot 20 times. I’ve been shot on the job. You get shot one time, that’s all you need to know, that’s all you need to go through to realize this sucks, this is bullshit, and I don’t like this.” As for the other side of the law, he also wanted the same level of accuracy with characters who have their “PhDs in violence, intimidation, and crime.”

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