United Artists | Release Date: March 27, 1981
8.9
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Universal acclaim based on 39 Ratings
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8
Compi24Jan 7, 2015
Crackling camerawork and dialogue ignite Michael Mann's first foray into feature length filmmaking - "Thief" feels miraculously as though it were made yesterday.
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8
SpangleNov 18, 2016
The feature-length debut for Michael Mann, Thief shows off Mann's tidy camerawork, ear for a great score, and his ability to craft smart thrillers. Starring James Caan, Thief is a neo-noir film about a man, essentially, looking to do one lastThe feature-length debut for Michael Mann, Thief shows off Mann's tidy camerawork, ear for a great score, and his ability to craft smart thrillers. Starring James Caan, Thief is a neo-noir film about a man, essentially, looking to do one last job before settling down, but his ties to the mob makes this impossible. Tense, thrilling, and blessed with great acting, music, and direction, Thief is a powerhouse of a crime film.

Firstly, the acting in the film is first-rate. James Caan stars as Frank. His Frank is a very complicated mobster, balancing brilliance with welding tools used to crack locks with a deep desire to have a family. He is, in many ways, an incredibly relatable man in this regard. Caan really brings this element to life and balances the character's brilliance, rage, and compassion. When he and the audience realize there is no way out for him, the film and Caan manage to create a great deal of empathy. All of this empathy is earned through his speech to Jessie (Tuesday Weld) in the bar. One of the iconic scenes of the film, Frank pours his heart out to Jessie and explains why he wants her in his life.

Aside from Caan, the other character who really grabs this film by the horns is Leo (Robert Prosky). The aging mob boss, Leo is a ruthless man. He may take care of those who help him, but make no mistake, Leo will do anything to make a profit. This is emphasized in his final speech to Frank when he lays everything out for him as to why he will continue to work for him. From threatening his family, threatening to prostitute his wife, and more, Leo is a menacing figure who instills great fear. Prosky captures this perfectly, yet nimbly transitions between that intensity to the scene following, in which one of his henchmen asks if he wants milk to which Leo replies, "No I'm fine". Seemingly innocuous, this moment really shows the two sides of the character - between ruthless mobster and typical old man - that Prosky really does a stellar job bringing to life.

In terms of the camera work, there are some seriously terrific shots here courtesy of Mann. Particularly, the sequence in the home when Frank breaks in and when Frank is breaking into the lock for the "big score". In the former, which happens later, Mann laces the film with a lot of tension through quick sweeping turns with the camera and of Caan himself. His fear is evident and permeates to the audience, leaving us completely on the edge of our seats. In the robbery sequence, a lot of this same tension occurs, but really is just eye candy at times when the orange flame encompasses the entire frame. One of the most notable shots utilized here, however, has to be the repeated upside down shots. There are two major moments I can think of, one because it looks good and the other because of the moment it captures. The former is of Frank driving his black car and we see nothing but the hood and the lights of the city glistening off its sleek black coat. Pure eye candy. The latter is when Leo is threatening Frank. The entire time, Leo is upside down and thinks really creates an effect further discomforting the viewer and Frank. Though the scene is intense on its own due to the language used by Leo, Mann increases the tension further through this shot by making it feel wholly foreign and uncomfortable.

Musically, Thief is incredible. Somehow, this score was nominated for a Razzie, but I guess that just shows how smart the people who run that award show are. Often rousing and always instilled with this psychedelic(?) rock-and-roll sound, the score for Thief can often consume a shot and further elevate the intensity of the moment. Really, a lot of this film is intended to create discomfort for the audience. The score really accomplishes this throughout, even if it is pleasing to the ears for the most part. It can be quite jarring and unsettling when it crescendos and truly leaves you trying to escape its grasp.

Thief is a thrilling and exciting crime film with some flaws - namely an underdeveloped element with Okla (Willie Nelson) - and some poor character development for people not named Frank or Leo, but the film remains a powerful thriller. Mann knows thrills and tension and is not afraid to show it off, as demonstrated in Thief, which truly embodies his trademarks and knowledge of how to leave his audience dying for more.
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8
chwJun 14, 2015
Thief is probably one of Michael Mann's best film, besides The Insider and Heat, of course. James Caan shines and is in his third best role (in my opinion), besides Sonny Corleone and Paul Sheldon.
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10
pdw123Sep 19, 2016
I disagree with the people who are saying that "Collateral" and "Heat" are better than "Thief". In my mind, this was Mann's masterpiece and I love the development and depth of Caan's character Frank. His acting speaks volumes over theI disagree with the people who are saying that "Collateral" and "Heat" are better than "Thief". In my mind, this was Mann's masterpiece and I love the development and depth of Caan's character Frank. His acting speaks volumes over the one-dimensionality of "American Gangster" that I just reviewed. Also, the technical aspects of this film are absolutely riveting. John Santucci, who plays the rough talking corrupt cop Urizzi, served as a technical advisor to Mann in how to crack safes and pull heists (being a Chicago ex-con). Other Chicago ex-cons also played cops in the film. This was straight off of Mann's commentary track. The fence that Robert Prosky brilliantly portrays was based on a real criminal in Chicago who ran crews of thieves. In this sense, "Thief" reminds me of "The French Connection", because in that film, Eddie Egan played Gene Hackman's police chief, whereas Hackman was actually portraying Egan in that film. Both movies seem highly authentic because they were heavily researched and based on true stories. Also, I greatly appreciate the technical craft Mann utilizes in the noir-ish looks of the film (the rain, fire escapes, lighting in the first scenes)and in his use of sound. One reason that he had Tangerine Dream score the film was so that he could carefully match the sounds of the tools Caan used with the score. Also, he thought the electronic score gave certain scenes a hellish quality such as the one with the car lot lit brightly at night (giving off a metallic glare). Finally, the fact that he used indigenous Chicagoans in his cast only adds to the sheer edginess of this crime drama, not to forget the supporting roles offered by Tuesday Weld and Willie Nelson. Two thumbs way way way up!! Expand
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