Directed by: Matthias Schweighöfer
Premise: A prequel to Army of the Dead. Safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) is recruited to participate in a string of bank robberies. The team is pursued by INTERPOL agents while a zombie apocalypse brews in the background.
What Works: Army of the Dead was conceived as the hub for an entire franchise of sequels and spinoffs but that zombie movie didn’t really scream for any follow ups. Depressed expectations assist in making Army of Thieves a delightful surprise. This is a heist movie and while it adheres to its genre Army of Thieves is a breezy, self-aware, and fun picture. This story is built around Ludwig Dieter, a safecracker played by Matthias Schweighöfer. He’s a neurotic but earnest and awkwardly lovable character and Schweighöfer plays Ludwig with energy and enthusiasm. Schweighöfer is also willing to be uncool and ridiculous in a way that makes the character vulnerable. Ludwig is the odd man out on a team of experienced criminals led by Gwendoline played by Nathalie Emmanuel. Army of Thieves recycles a familiar Hollywood trope, pairing an awkward and uncool guy with an attractive woman but the convention mostly works because the filmmakers ease into the romance and Schweighöfer and Emmanuel make it convincing. The rest of the central characters are goofy and offbeat. Guz Khan, Ruby O. Fee, and Stuart Martin play the other members of the criminal crew. Although they are playing familiar heist-movie roles each actor brings some personality and color to their characters. Jonathan Cohen plays an INTERPOL agent who is on their trail and he suffers indignities that play for comedy. The wacky characters and self-aware nods make Army of Thieves almost a parody of the heist genre and it’s a fun romp.
What Doesn’t: Army of Thieves could very easily have been a standalone film but it’s forced to tie into its progenitor; Army of Thieves is hobbled by that necessity. References to the fomenting zombie crisis are out of step with the tone of Army of Thieves. The zombies are only in the background of this film but whenever they show up these moments feel like they belong to some other movie. Army of Thieves is most injured by its association with Army of the Dead is the conclusion. The filmmakers have to position Ludwig where he’s found in Army of the Dead and that requires the makers of Army of Thieves to compromise the characters and stories of this film. The movie ends abruptly without bringing the overall heist narrative or the relationship between Ludwig and Gwendoline to a satisfying end.
DVD extras: Currently on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Army of Thieves is an inspired prequel that is much better than its progenitor. It’s handicapped by the need to align with Army of the Dead but as a standalone heist picture this film offers a lot of entertainment value.
Episode: #878 (November 14, 2021)