Under the Radar

Military Cops & Robbers in 'Den of Thieves'

Gerard Butler leads the LA County Sheriff's Dept. squad in "Den of Thieves." (Universal Pictures)

Writer/director Christian Gudegast's heist thriller "Den of Thieves" is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital and he took the time to talk to us about the movie and its upcoming sequel.

On the surface, it's a movie about a highly disciplined robbery crew led by Pablo Schreiber pursued by a slightly less disciplined LA County Sheriff's Department investigative unit led by Gerard Butler. Both teams are military training with extensive tactical training and experience.

There's more at play here, though and the planned heist of the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Los Angeles turns out to be a lot more complicated than it seems.

Gudegast previously wrote "London Has Fallen" and Butler seems to be having even more of a blast this time. The director is also the son of "Rat Patrol" star Eric Braeden, who's enjoyed a very long career playing Victor Newman on "The Young and the Restless." Dad shows up briefly in "Den of Thieves.

In addition to its intricate plot, "Den of Thieves" makes a heroic effort to have Atlanta stand in for Los Angeles, using some SoCal establishing shots and careful editing to great effect.

The movie also stars O'Shea Jackson Jr., 50 Cent and Evan Jones (a/k/a the guy who looks like Flea from the Chili Peppers).

Your robbery crew are all Marine Corps veterans.  How did you decide to make your thieves military men?

That whole crew and the movie's law enforcement as well, Big Nick’s crew. All the heists were based on actual cases.  It’s an amalgam of true stories lumped together. The thieves are based on a crew that were never caught called The Hole in the Ground Gang. They operated in LA from the late 90’s through the mid-2000’s and did super high-profile heists.  

Law enforcement never caught them but, when they profiled the gang, they figured they were all part of one military unit because of their expertise and their skillset.

It helped the film for these guys to be Marines. To pull off those kinds of heists, they would need a pretty extraordinary skillset. 

You seem to be a real scholar of heist movies.  Is that something you were into growing up?

A scholar of movies, in general.  But I love heist movies, I always did.  We tried to get everything very, very accurate and had a lot of technical advisors. We cast a lot of the real guys, a lot of real cops and real gangsters.  We had some ex-military in the movie as well. We wanted to get everything as tactically and logistically accurate as possible.

50 Cent in "Den of Thieves" (Universal Pictures)

You’ve been a screenwriter for most of your career and this is your first time as the director. Is that something you had always been aiming to do?

I went to UCLA film school to become a director and I actually never meant to be a writer. As I was graduating, I started directing music videos, which at the time was a way into the business.  

To graduate from UCLA, you have to write a script. I wrote a script with my old writing partner and we sold it to Oliver Stone, of all people, before we even graduated. That completely changed the trajectory of my career. I became a screenwriter. It really wasn’t by design.  It just kind of happened that way.  

All these years go by and then I finally decided to take the final transition back to filmmaking. But this project was at Relativity Media, which went bankrupt.  We were in sort of a purgatory for all those years while Relativity was struggling to stay afloat.  Once they went belly up, we were finally able to get out and make it. 

Director Christian Gudegast on the set of "Den of Thieves."

I've seen some good films that you’ve written and then I see this one. There's a real visual perspective and sense of filmmaking mechanics that suggest you might've been the guy who should have been directing your screenplays all along.

I've been a photographer my whole life. One of the big selling points when we were trying to get this film going is that I photographed the entire film in still photographs.  All the locations are real in the movie and all the characters are based on people that I actually know. I basically went out into the world and basically shot the entire movie in still photographs and put together a look-book that was hundreds of pages long.  

I you had a script, you could flip through the look-book and see every single scene.  You could see the location, the lens we'd use, the look, the grain, the color. You could get just an extremely strong sense of what the movie would be. When it came time to making it, the DP and I just, more or less, animated what was already committed to still photograph.  

O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Pablo Schreiber in "Den of Thieves" (Universal Pictures)

IMDB says that you're getting ready to make Den of Thieves 2; is that accurate?

That is accurate.  It’ll be down the road, just a touch, after I do something else.  But Big Nick is gonna hunt [SPOILER] in Europe and [SPOILER] is going to be embroiled in the world of the Pink Panther Mafia, the diamond thieves.  

It’s going to take place in London, in Belgium, Marseille and Montenegro. I will leave it at that, but it’s gonna be a very European feeling really, it’s gonna be cool.  It’s going to seem like "Sexy Beast" or "Ronin" or "Gomorrah" or "Suburra."

Y seem to be developing a pretty close working relationship with Gerard Butler over the course of the last few years.  

Yeah, Gerry and I have become very, very close and we’ve worked together quite a bit.  And the experience on Den was, quite frankly, incredible.  We were just in total sync and it’s his favorite thing he's ever done and he's the most proud of this performance.  

In "DOT2," we’re going to expand upon that.  We’re going to continue our journey with Big Nick and we’ll see another side of him, a different side of him.  

Eric Braedon on television's "The Rat Patrol."

You grew up in a showbiz family and for our readership, at least some of the older guys, "Rat Patrol" was a very big deal for Military.com readers. 

Too funny.

Your dad was also on TV every day for your whole life. Did you watch the "Rat Patrol" stuff with him growing up?

The "Rat Patrol," I did.  That’s actually the only show that I've watched of his as a kid.  He shot it before I was born, but of course there were reruns and everything. I loved it.  

But aside from that, my dad has always kept his career and his life completely separate. He doesn’t live a “Hollywood life” at all.  Actually, the antithesis. My dad is basically an athlete.  He was a track athlete and a professional soccer player and also a boxer. While I was growing up, my dad and I just played sports 24/7.  

I went to visit him on set when he did "Hawaii 5-0" and I remember visiting him there when I was really little.  But I actually didn’t really grow up around it that much.  You would think that I would, but I actually didn’t.  

Back when I grew up in LA, that was the time when all production was here, so everybody’s family was involved.  It wasn’t a big deal. That's what everybody did.  Every girlfriend of mine, all of their dads were either in special effects or stuntmen or something and all my buddies' dads were producers and actors and editors and hairstylists or whatever it was.  

Growing up, we just didn’t even really think about it.  It’s just what everybody did to make a living. 

It was really great to see your dad in the movie. It was a surprise, there he was.  It’s not a big part, but he's definitely there.

We had a great time.  We had a ball.  It was pretty funny directing him.

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