67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2000
Michael Mann's dark and intriguing 1981 crime film "Thief",....adapted from the Frank Hohimer novel "The Home Invaders" is finally out on DVD and packed with interesting features including insightful commentary by director Michael Mann and star James Caan.
Additionally, there are deleted scenes, theatrical trailer and an 8 page booklet too....excellent additions to accompany the DVD release of this noir cult film. The DVD color transfer is excellent...precisely capturing the neon lit and rain swept night world of crime...and Tangerine Dreams haunting soundtrack is brilliant in Dolby sound. Mann's movie depicts the life of ex-convict turned professional thief, Frank (James Caan) who maintains an honest veneer during the day as a car dealership manager, but his nights are spent with partner Barry (James Belushi) carrying out elaborate jewel robberies. Frank falls in with criminal mastermind, Leo (Robert Prosky in a chilling performance) who is seemingly a guardian angel...but the relationship quickly sours and Franks world crumbles and then ignites in violence and death.
Mann's highly effective use of light and color give an eerie ambience to this film...and the first rate support cast including Tuesday Weld and Willie Nelson as the ailing master safe cracker, Okla....give "Thief" a polished finish. Director Michael Mann continued his motif of criminal thrillers in later years with TV shows like Miami Vice & Crime Story...and films like Manhunter & Heat.
A very worthy addition to your DVD collection...fans of intense, intelligent crime saga's will definitely enjoy !!
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 1999
James Caan plays a hardcore master thief who's spent almost his entire adult life behind bars. When he makes a Faustian bargain with a mobster (Robert Prosky) in order to get out of the life, everything he's worked for tumbles down around him. This is a MAGNIFICENT movie, full of power, irony, and ferocious action! I think it's Caan's greatest role, and that's saying A LOT! He brings incredible intensity to his role as a man who, in order to save himself, must destroy everything he loves. Not only is this a fabulous movie, it's my favorite DVD. The DVD/widescreen format truly does justice to Director Mann (MIAMI VICE, MANHUNTER, HEAT)'s quirky, ultra-slick style. Also, the commentary by Mann and Caan is EXACTLY what a DVD commentary track should be: two great artists commenting on the film at the same time, playing off of each other and really adding a whole new dimension to the film (for instance, did you know that the "technical advisors" for the film were a "crew" of jewltheives, and that Caan was breaking into REAL safes with REAL burglary tools?). If you loved HEAT, you HAVE TO see this movie! In fact, this is almost a companion piece to HEAT, because Caan's character is sort of an earlier version of DeNiro's character. If you are a fan of films like RESERVOIR DOGS, HEAT, PULP FICTION, and THE GETAWAY, this is a MUST-SEE! This is truly a modern classic!
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
I first saw this film soon after it was released, having no idea what to expect, except that it was filmed in my home town (Chicago) and that it starred James Caan whose work I had admired so much in The Godfather. I neither knew nor cared who directed it (Michael Mann) and had no idea which group provided the musical soundtrack (Tangerine Dream). Wow! I enjoyed Thief so much I returned to see it again the next evening, dragging along some friends who knew even less about it than I did only 24 hours before. In my opinion, this is Caan's finest performance as Frank, a middle-aged jewel thief who is obviously determined to make a long-cherished dream come true: Retire from his criminal life, marry, start a family, and live happily ever after. He carries a photo collage in his wallet as a daily reminder of the "life" he one day hopes to have. He shares it only with Jessie (Tuesday Weld) because she is the only person with whom he wants to share that life. Meanwhile, Frank has met with Leo (Robert Prosky) who seems to take a paternal interest in Frank but only to gain his trust so that Frank will agree to an assignment for the mob. Of course, Leo has no intention of allowing him to retire. Once involved with the mob, Frank will have no way out except death. After he and Jessie marry and move into a lovely home, they are frustrated in their attempts to adopt a child so Leo provides one ("Boy or girl? Whatever you want.") and much of Frank's dream has come true. One last lucrative theft and....
Under Mann's direction, all of the performances are outstanding. I was especially interested in the care with which the major theft is planned and then executed. When Frank then realizes that he cannot free himself from the mob, he reacts with prudence (to protect his wife and child) and then with rage and vengeance. The soundtrack and cinematography are brilliantly integrated within the narrative. The editing by Mann and Dov Hoenig is lean and sharply-focused. When I saw Thief again recently, it had lost none of its dramatic impact; moreover, I recognized this time around certain nuances of character and plot development which I had missed before. I include it on my list of great films which have never been fully appreciated, probably because -- until the VHS and CD versions -- so few people had been able to see it. No excuses now.
The DVD version includes a commentary by Mann and Caan, deleted scenes, and footage not shown in theaters. I also strongly recommend the CD of the Tangerine Dream soundtrack which evokes so many memorable images from the film but, for those who have not as yet seen it, offers great listening in its own right.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
The pulsing synth-rock of Tangerine Dream really sets the tone for this ultra-stylish and sleek noir heist gone bad film. The film is like a well oiled machine and when you hear the synthesizers roar into action you know that something extremely bad is going down. This synthesizer noir film has a menace that never lets up.
Michael Mann isn't much for giving his criminals and cops bios or personalities or much else; his characters don't even have last names, they are just hunters or the hunted. James Caan plays "Frank". Frank's a car dealer by day and jewel thief by night and as an ex con who has spent 11 of his 35 years in prison Frank knows that he doesn't have a second to lose and that the odds and the fates are against him. Nevertheless he's trying to defy his loner's fate by assembling a family (that includes a recently met waitress played by Tuesday Weld and an adopted child) but he seems to know from the start that plans do not have a way of working out. So far his life has been like a big blank that he's trying to fill in but he just can't seem to beat those odds and those fates that have somehow decided ahead of time that he is predestined to fail are breathing down his neck. Frank doesn't have a real family. He went straight from orphanage to prison house. And everywhere Frank has been he's been mistreated. Still he keeps fighting back. In prison he was beaten within inches of his life by a gang of predators attempting to rape him but Franks the kind of guy who fought back and left his assailants in worse shape than they left him. The recently released from prison Frank is a guy that you don't want to cross. Still each time Frank pulls off a heist someone screws him over. All Frank wants is to make one big score so he can settle down with his make-shift family but there's always someone getting in the way of Franks big payday.
Virtually the entire movie takes place at night and so every scene is lit with Mann's signature neon lights. Frank runs a car dealership as a cover for his real occupation and the car dealership is always eerily lit by little bulbs that make the lot of cars seem unreal. Its as if the entire film were bathed in an unnatural slightly blurred glow. Its an effect that I've seen in Brian DePalma films and it seems to create a kind of surreal or hyper-real aura . The slightly blurred artificial lighting that we see in the car lot and in the various bar scenes is like a motif that works with the music to create a sense of an all-pervasive menace and both of these things also contribute to the feeling that Frank's view of the world may be slightly skewed. The music by the way is reminiscent of the music in William Friedkin's SORCERER, another film known for its unrelenting menace.
Caan is impeccable as always and even though he's really only given a barely there character to play he has a way of making us feel this anonymous state raised guy's pain and desperation. The first time we see Frank he is using a drill to open a safe and Frank seems to be one with the tools of his trade. Frank also seems to want life to operate as purely as the machines he uses but life is never as predictable or reliable as a machine. When things don't go as planned its like an indication that things will never go as planned and so you can understand why the highly organized Frank flies off the handle at the slightest hint of more failure. We understand Frank's rage each time a plan falls apart and we also know that Frank knows that this is quite possibly his last chance to make a life. So when a deceptively kind mob boss who poses as a father figure betrays Frank we know things will not end well. Usually Frank works alone or with a team that he assembles but he allows himself to be lured in by the boss's fatherly charms. We somehow know this will be a fatal mistake for one of them. The original deal was that Frank would do one big score for the mob boss and then retire but once the score is complete the mob boss not only refuses to pay Frank his fair share depriving Frank yet again of that elusive payday but he also insists that Frank now works for him thus threatening to steal from Frank the thing he values most, his independence. In order to assure this new deal the mob boss threatens to prostitute his new wife if he doesn't comply. Frank knows he cannot accept these terms which tear at his dream of a family and his independence and we know the mob boss who has destroyed Franks dream is going to get the worst that Frank has ever given when we hear those synthesizers begin to pulse and we see that neon glow burn once again. The ultraviolent finale is one of the most intense and nasty noir codas on film.
Excellent supporting cast including Tuesday Weld as Franks wife and James Belushi as his trusted heist accomplice but this is primarily a James Caan tour de force.
Other Caan roles:
*Coppola's GODFATHER I(72)
*Karel Reisz's GAMBLER (74)
*Norman Jewison's ROLLERBALL (75)
*Sam Peckinpah's KILLER ELITE (75)
James Caan claims that his favorite film is THIEF.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2004
Unfortunately for Michael Mann, Thief is his first and easily his best movie. How do you top yourself when the results are this close to perfection? The story may be familiar, but when the cast and the location are this good, everything old and familiar is recast as something special. James Caan's performance is also the best of his long career. There is not a single note out of place. The characters lives are etched on their faces, the grittiness does not come across as Hollywood manufactured. Modern film noir at its absolute finest.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
First, the DVD is not top-notch. Some ghosting in the picture etc. Hope for a better edition some day. What IS topnotch on the DVD is the Commentary by Michael Mann and James Caan. We learn that they immersed themselves in the world of "master" jewel thieves and cops and that many of the capers shown were based on real jobs these guys did. All of the background they discuss lets you know why Thief looks and feels so authentic. AND it's very funny as well.
Michael Mann's first film is stylish, slick, and as noted above, gritty and authentic. Caan is terrific and is ably supported by Tuesday Weld, Jim Belushi, and Robert Prosky, and a terrific cameo by Willy Nelson.
A master thief, raised and "educated" in state institutions and prisons, Caan is a man who has "run out of time". He learned to survive in prison by not caring about himself or anyone (which we learn in a great scene with Tuesday Weld), he was taught by a master thief (Nelson) and he has a dream he created that he is trying to fulfill. His dream is the adolescent dream of the family and house with a white picket fence, imagined in prison, and now trying to be made real in the world.
Caan is a lone wolf, working his own jobs with his own crew. In order to speed up the completion of his dream he decides to throw in with Prosky's mob, and take on jobs for pay. This leads to a crisis and Caan must make a fateful decision.
Great photography; terse and tough dialogue; terrific pounding soundtrack; absolutely stunning & complex robberies; stylish direction and excellent acting. Really good stuff.
This is a great companion piece to Mann's "Heat". I want to think that it is Caan's character that DeNiro refers to in Heat as the old guy in prison that taught him you have to be ready to drop and leave everything in your life if the "Heat" is near....anyway, this was the terrific precursor to that great film, and you can see that the themes explored here were later developed and elaborated on in Heat. Two great films. This one 4-1/2 stars.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2005
Thief is Mann's first film and a kind of precursor to Heat, his 1995 crime 'epic'.
Extremely stylish and well-made, Thief is the story of Frank (James Caan), a lone-wolf, highline cat burglar working Chicago. Making up for time lost in the joint, Frank takes down 'scores' and one day comes across the mob as he's trying to collect on some 'downed merch'.
The film is gritty, violent, and credible. Mann goes for realism all the way, and styles it heavily with great camera work, a pulsing Tangerine Dream score, and great performances all around, especially Caan, and Robert Prosky as Leo, the big shot who handles the fence for half of Chicago. Leo comes across as a gentle bear early on, but he goes on to deliver some classic lines, making him a totally sinister and underrated bad guy.
Apparently, real thieves and cops (who appear in the cast) 'consulted' on this film, and all of the safes and tools that Caan handles are real--he's really breaking into vaults in those scenes.
Nice DVD. A trailer, but importantly, a commentary from Mann and Caan, who especially loves this film as it gave him a chance to do some of his best acting. The commentary appears to have been taken from an early 1990s laser disc.
Highly recommended. Many plot points and a couple of scenes are redone in Heat (which itself was a remake of a TV movie called LA Takedown, another Mann outing).
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2014
Thief is a rare thriller film that is fast-paced with a lot of character development. Many consider it one of the best action movies ever made and James Caan's performance is excellent. Thief comes in a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The picture and audio quality are superb (restored in 4K and approved by director Michael Mann). Fans will be pleased at the upgrade from the previous DVD release. There is 52 minutes of total bonus content.
Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 | Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Formats: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles/Captions: English SDH
Audio commentary featuring Mann and actor James Caan
New interviews with Mann, Caan, and Johannes Schmoelling of the band Tangerine Dream, which contributed the film's soundtrack
A booklet featuring an essay by critic Nick James
Buy this Blu-ray.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2000
I had to write this review after reading so many rave reviews of "Heat", which is overrated compared to "Thief". It makes me wonder how many of those customer reviewers are adolescents or young adults who have not seen this picture.
This motion picture is somewhat similar in plot to "Heat", but with considerably less violence (until about the final 30 minutes). James Caan is at his best as an ex-con trying to play his cards close to the vest when he makes a deal with a mob leader that ends disastrously. I find myself agreeing with the customer reviewer who wrote that this was Caan's best acting performance ever. The intensity and feel of "Thief" make it a far superior movie to "Heat", with excellent supporting performances from Willie Nelson, Tuesday Weld, and Jim Belushi.
Especially noteworthy is the performance of Robert Prosky as Leo, the mobster who thinks he's got Caan's character under his thumb only to get his comeuppance. Look for Rick Rossovich and Dennis Farina as Leo's hired muscle.
In addition to a great plot and great performances (hallmarks of almost every film Mann's ever done) is a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream that really rocks! Rent or buy this movie, and if you like it, start your quest for the soundtrack album immediately! You'll be glad you did.
Don't get me wrong here, "Heat" was a good movie. "Thief", however, was done first and done better
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2014
Thief (1981) is a gritty crime drama from writer-director Michael Mann.
James Caan stars as “Frank,” a tough professional safe-cracker who prefers to work alone, but finds himself trapped between an organized crime family and a squad of corrupt police.
Frank made himself vulnerable to these nefarious influences when he decided to normalize his life; to go “legitimate” after pulling off one or two more big diamond heists. He married world-weary restaurant cashier Tuesday Weld and, with the help of a crime boss (Robert Prosky), he was able to adopt a child. But now, there are complications.
Caan and, especially, Ms. Weld, deliver what are (arguably) the finest performances of their careers in this powerful, violent drama, filmed primarily in Chicago. James Belushi and Willie Nelson co-star…and look for Dennis Farina in a small role. It’s one of his first movies.
The new dual format set (Blu-Ray/DVD) from The Criterion Collection contains several nice extras, including a new digital restoration from a 4K film transfer of the director’s cut (approved by Michael Mann). There is also audio commentary by both Mann and Caan, plus new individual interviews with Mann, Caan and Johannes Schmoelling of the band Tangerine Dream, which contributed the film’s soundtrack. All content is available on both the Blu-Ray and DVD discs.
Finally, there is a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Nick James.
© Michael B. Druxman