Director Michael Mann’s feature directorial debut THIEF is also one of his best films and still remains potent over 3 decades later.
Master thief Frank (James Caan) has a particular way he likes to work. He has a crew he trusts and an arms-length distance from everything else in his life so that it can’t be used against him.But things get complicated after a recent job where he catches the attention of Leo (Robert Prosky) a local crime boss who wants to take Frank under his wing. Frank reluctantly agrees because the money is too good to pass up and there’s a real chance that after this score, he could walk away for good.
When the deal turns out to be too good to be true, Frank takes matters into his own hands to put things straight.
Even though the film takes place in Chicago, Mann manages to make the city appear claustrophobic by shooting things from low angles and never showing the tops of buildings. The atmosphere is thick and moody and there’s rawness reminiscent of the films of the early 1970’s. Mann would perfect this style with films like MANHUNTER, HEAT and COLLATERAL.
At its core, THIEF is more of a character piece than a heist film and James Caan crackles in one of his finest performances, if not his best. The great supporting cast includes Jim Belushi as his most trusted partner in crime and Tuesday Weld as the woman who could have been the one to help Frank fulfill his dreams. There’s even a cameo from Willie Nelson as Frank’s imprisoned mentor and he makes the most out of just a brief amount of screen time.
A review of THIEF would not be complete without recognizing the music score by Tangerine Dream. Only their second film score (The first being William Friedkin’s SORCERER), it becomes the driving force behind the film and would solidify Mann’s musical style that not only continued in his films but also on his landmark TV series MIAMI VICE.
THIEF is a MUST SEE FILM for fans of heist films but also fans of intriguing character dramas.